Card-checks and Neutrality Agreements: How Hotel Unions Staged a Comeback in 2006
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Summer 2006 saw multiple negotiations between the big-city hotel operators and UNITE HERE, the union that represents hotel employees. The negotiations represented the culmination of the union's carefully set strategy to reconfigure the playing field in hotel labor relations. By arranging to have several cities' contracts expire within weeks of each other in summer 2006 and then splitting off one chain from another, the union was able to achieve its goal of selling labor peace through the threat of labor unrest. Operators in San Francisco tested the union's resolve in 2004, and the result then was a season of strikes and lockouts. Rather than endure the same scenario, operators in several other large cities negotiated for, and achieved, labor peace. While neither side is confirming the presence of neutrality and card-check agreements as part of the settlement, one of the union's stated goals was to be able to organize through the card-checks, rather than conduct secret-ballot elections. Under a card-check agreement, an employer agrees to recognize the union as its employees' representative after a majority of employees have signed cards stating that they are interested in organizing. The agreement eliminates what has traditionally been the next step, which is a secret-ballot election. Negotiations are not the only means by which unions are seeking to achieve this card-check procedure. The U.S. House of Representatives in early 2007 passed a bill that would mandate card-checks in all union campaigns. While the outlook for this bill is dim under the current administration, its fate may be determined in the 2008 election.