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Hotel Lawyer — What do the hotel unions want? What can you do?

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29 September 2006
This has been a busy year for the hotel unions such as UNITE HERE. The union’s latest action yesterday in closing down the main corridor to LA’s International Airport with sit-ins in the middle of Century Boulevard garnered significant media attention. More than 300 were arrested in a demonstration “choreographed” with city officials and police. The protest was part of the union’s effort to organize 13 non-union hotels ostensibly to publicize the treatment of immigrants by the non-union airport hotels.

The protests at LAX are part of a two year effort by UNITE HERE that follows recent Multi-Employer Group contract negotiations timed to expire at the same time this year in a half-dozen major cities. These tactics have given the union more leverage and publicity, while limiting the ability of hotel operators to replace striking workers with employees from other hotels in other cities the same chain. [For more background, some excellent newspaper accounts are listed below, including those by the LA Times’ Joe Mathews and Kimi Yoshino about recent union actions in San Francisco and LA.]

A key union demand in the organizing activities over the past two years has been getting neutrality agreements — also called card-check or peace agreements.

What are these neutrality agreements the unions want so badly? The neutrality or peace agreement typically requires that the employer recognize the union if a majority of the employees have signed a union authorization card that was handed to the employee by the union organizers. Under federal law, the employer may insist on a secret ballot election to be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, but the neutrality agreement eliminates that protection of secret ballot elections.

Sometimes neutrality agreements also give the union unfettered access to the employer’s property to solicit employees to join the union. Some agreements require the employer to turn over confidential employee information, such as home addresses and phone numbers, so the union can make “home visits” or calls. Some neutrality agreements attempt to tie the future employer to certain minimum wage scales even before bargaining begins for a labor agreement!

What do employers need to know to protect themselves? For this information, I asked my colleague Marta Fernandez, a senior member of our Global Hospitality Group® and a partner in the Firm’s Labor & Employment Group. Here is her advice: (1) If you are a developer being approached before your hotel opens, try to defer discussions until the operator is in place. More often than not, the operator will be the employer for hotel workers, and operators are set up to handle these issues. (2) Do not sign the neutrality agreement that is first presented by the union. There may be ways of responding to union threats without giving in to the union. Examine all your options with counsel. (3) If you must deal with the union, understand that there are many forms and terms of neutrality agreement.

Remember, every neutrality agreement is negotiable . . . and should be negotiated fully!

What do employers need to do to protect themselves? Tomorrow’s blog will have some practical tips. Don’t miss it!

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

To read more about UNITE HERE actions in September, look for these stories:

“A plan for very civil disobedience,” by Joe Mathews of the LA Times, “Hundreds Arrested in a Protest Tied to Unionizing Hotel Workers,” by Cindy Chang of the New York Times, “Demonstrators close Century Blvd.,” by Sue Doyle of the LA Daily News, “Police arrest 300 protesters demanding unionization at hotels,” by Daisy Nguyen of the Associated Press, “Union hails contract, tentative pact reached with 13 S.F. hotels,” by George Raine of the San Francisco Chronicle and “City hotels, workers reach deal to end strife,” by Bonnie Eslinger of the San Francisco Examiner.”

Our Perspective. We represent developers, owners and lenders. We have helped our clients as business and legal advisors on more than $87 billion of hotel transactions, involving more than 3,900 properties all over the world. For more information, please contact Jim Butler at or 310.201.3526.

Jim Butler is one of the top hotel lawyers in the world. GOOGLE “hotel lawyer” or “hotel mixed-use” or “condo hotel lawyer” and you will see why.

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