The once powerful hotel workers’ union has had hard times in its past, but none as bad as this.
While many unions have had members across the nation laid off due to shutting down much of the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps no union’s membership has taken a bigger hit than the union members of UNITE-HERE.
With 300,000 members—“predominantly women and people of color”—employed in the airlines, gaming and hospitality industries, UNITE-HERE’s members were among the hardest hit as a result of much of the nation being shut down during the month of April.
“Right now, we’re fighting for our survival,” UNITE-HERE’s president, D. Taylor said in an interview with ProPublica last month. “We’re crushed in every city and every sector of our industry. There is nobody that has escaped the effects of COVID-19.”
“Nearly all of its members are in industries — not just hotels and casinos, but also providing food services for universities, airlines, airports and sports stadiums — that have been ravaged by the pandemic. Two months ago, Taylor could boast that the organization had never seen better days. Today, a staggering 98% of Unite Here’s 307,000 members are out of work, he said.”
Now, with much of the country beginning to open back up, UNITE-HERE’s members still face hurdles.
As of Thursday, airline traffic is still down nearly 90% from the same dates last year, casinos (where many of the union’s members work) remain closed, and many hotels are restricting their housekeeping to when guests check out.
With the economic fallout of the COVID shutdown still lingering, airlines are laying off thousands, which will impact UNITE-HERE’s members working at airports and at hotels servicing the airline industry.
Even if the economy does rebound to some extent, it is likely that hotels will continue limiting their housekeeping services in the future.
“More and more of our guests have actually asked that we don’t come in their room because again, human-to-human contact. And so, we are reducing the level of frequency as it relates to housekeeping, based on guest feedback,” said Ray Bennett, chief global officer at Marriott in early May.
For a union like UNITE-HERE, this means fewer members in the longer term.
“We’re fairly confident we will have mandatory layoffs,” UNITE-HERE’s Taylor told ProPublica. “We don’t want to do that.”
Staff members are also taking pay cuts — 20% for Taylor and the union’s No. 2 official — according to people familiar with the matter, reported ProPublica.
Other staff members were asked to take 5% or 10% cuts.
Some locals have already begun layoffs, cutting as much of half of their paid staff, the union told ProPublica.