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Hotel Lawyer: The recent labor settlements — About card checks and neutrality agreements. . .

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17 September 2006
In past few blog commentaries, I have described the labor settlements in San Francisco and Monterey, and begun to look at what they portend. Last time, my partner, Marta Fernandez, helped us understand that although the union would like us to think that the deals cut with Multi-Employer Groups (or MEGs) in various cities set the standard for everyone else, that is not true. Nothing mandates that hotels adopt a “me too” agreement as the union proposes.

Today, we will look at one important area where it may pay for other hotels (i.e. non-MEG hotels) to avoid the “model” negotiated by the MEGs.

Marta notes that one of the terms in the tentative agreement with UNITE HERE which the San Francisco hotels are not talking about very much is a provision that will require MEG members who develop or acquire hotels in San Francisco or San Mateo counties to recognize the union based on a simple “card check.”

This is clearly a win for the union on an issue which had been strenuously opposed by the MEG members for two years. A card check process permits the union to organize employees at new locations and demand recognition as the employees’ representative by simply obtaining signatures on cards from a majority of those employees. Once the employer is presented with the signed cards, the employer will be required to automatically recognize the union.


What is wrong with this card check process? It deprives both the employer and employees of the protections afforded by federal laws under the required secret ballot elections. It side steps the whole democratic underpinning of the union election concept. But this win is significant for the union as it guarantees organizing without legal challenge at future projects.

No employer has an obligation to agree to a card check or neutrality agreement. If presented with this scenario, there are numerous strategies that can be used and Hotels should consult with their labor counsel before agreeing to any such agreement. More on what to do when threatened by a union or coerced to sign a neutrality agreement will be found in upcoming blog commentary.

This is also a clear example of the inherent conflicts that arise from multi-employer bargaining. It has been reported that the larger chains like Hilton Hotels Corp. and Starwood Hotels & Resorts persuaded other MEG hotels to accept this provision. Hilton entered into a national “partnership” agreement with HERE earlier this year.

Once the independent members realize this agreement may tie their hands on future projects where they will be forced to deal with the union, the euphoria over a quick-fix deal may not be long-lasting.

Marta Fernandez is a senior member of the Global Hospitality Group® and a partner in the Firm’s Labor & Employment Group. A management labor lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience, Marta specializes in representing hospitality industry clients in all aspects of labor and employment, including labor-management relations such as union prevention, collective bargaining for single as well as multi-employer bargaining units, neutrality agreements and defense of unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB; implementation of preventative management strategies, such as executive training, arbitration enforcement and policies and procedures; defense of administrative and litigation claims, such as employee claims of sexual harassment and discrimination. For more information please contact Marta Fernandez at 310.201.3534 or

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