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Hotel Lawyer: What to do when the hotel union comes knocking! Neutrality agreements, card-check agreements and peace agreements.

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30 September 2006
One of the top priorities of the Unite Here over the past two years has been obtaining neutrality agreements (also sometimes called card-check agreements or peace agreements). See yesterday’s posting and many of the newspaper articles referenced below). So what do you do when the union is at your door — whether you are a union hotel (not covered by a Multi-Employer Group contract), a non-union hotel, or a developer waiting to break ground?

In yesterday’s posting Marta Fernandez gave us some basics employers need to know. The bottom line is that neutrality agreements have many negotiable points, and you shouldn’t ever sign the first draft the union puts in front of you as their “standard” form. Today, she gives us some practical tips on critical negotiable points in neutrality agreements.


OK. You have read our prior postings in the “Labor & Employment” section of this blog and you understand some important points. Hotel experts say that a union hotel costs 35% more to run than a non-union hotel-and not because of wage standards but because of cumbersome “work rules.” There may be many legitimate ways you can avoid being a union shop, but let’s assume you have exhausted those or decided not to fight. You do understand that a Multi-Employer Group (MEG) contract only binds the hotels in the MEG, and although the union may try to take the position that the MEG contract sets the standard, it does not have to do so, and legally cannot be binding on non MEG hotels.

Who do you hire to help? The lawyer who negotiated the MEG contract?

Should you hire the lawyer who negotiated the MEG contract with the union for the MEG hotels? This is initially appealing. One would think this lawyer has the expertise on the issues and familiarly with the union. But that may be too high a price to pay, because this lawyer is really “conflicted” by the fact that it will be difficult for this lawyer to try to “renegotiate” the points for non MEG hotels. We have usually seen much better results obtained by a lawyer not so tainted with the MEG negotiations.

What issues may be negotiable in a neutrality agreement?

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 are a few tips that Marta Fernandez gives us as examples of neutrality agreement negotiating points:

• Be sure there is a specific and finite period within which the union can organize, and after which the neutrality agreement expires. After that period, the union should leave you alone (at least for a reasonable time period).

• Limit and define the “employer property” and employees (if any) to which union representatives will be given access.

• Build in protections for employees against coercive, high-pressure union tactics, at work or home.

• Provide for a neutral arbitrator or panel of arbitrators to review the card-check process and disputes.

• Do not agree to any terms of the (future) underlying labor agreement-a union cannot negotiate the wages, hours and working conditions of employees they do not yet represent, although they will try.

• If the union is recognized, the terms of the labor agreement should be left to labor negotiations. Make sure that all of the union’s promises to you are incorporated into the written agreement. If it is not in writing, there is NO agreement.

Remember there can be no “peace” with the union, but you can limit your exposure by proceeding with extreme care in any neutrality agreement negotiations. You may also want to consult counsel to make sure you are getting the best agreement possible. The consequences can be significant.

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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