Navigating Union Labor

Posted on Dec 4, 2018 By Jana Hofer

In early October, nearly 8,000 front desk staff, housekeepers, servers, bartenders, and other service employees at Marriott properties in eight major cities across the country walked off the job. These workers sought higher wages and job security and after months of demonstrating and deadlocked contract negotiations, the strike actually continues for over 2,500 employees at seven properties in downtown San Francisco.

These multi-city strikes are not only financially devastating to local and state tourism; they can also seriously impact the meeting and event planning industry. Not surprisingly, planners are largely divided about the benefits of collective bargaining units – or unions – and the rules that comprise their power.

Some planners and their clients seek out and will only work with those venues and vendors who have organized labor. Others in our industry feel that unions not only add unnecessary complexity and cost to their budgets, but also impede the competitive incentive to deliver the highest quality services.

Although many planners seek out non-union ("right to work") destinations such as Dallas, Texas – it is inevitable that clients' work will eventually bring them to a union city. When you do find yourself partnering with organized labor, below are a few helpful hints and things to keep in mind.


Consider your budget
When planning an event in major cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, or Boston, anticipate increased costs – especially if you're using venue that requires union labor. Not all properties in union-heavy cities have union labor rules so it's important to gather this info during the contracting phase.


Know your options
You'll need to know exactly what kinds of things can only be handled by the in-house teams - what specific work must be done by union labor, and what can be handled by non-union labor. Local service partners, venues and CVBs are valuable experts in these nuances.


Understand union rules
Although union rules and regulations vary by location, here are some general things to keep in mind as you create your agenda:

  • Meals: Union crews are typically provided standard meal breaks.
  • Breaks: On average, one-hour breaks must be given every five hours. Sometimes, these can be reduced to 30 minutes if food is provided at the start of the break. Also, 15-minute "coffee breaks" may be taken at the 2.5-hour mark.
  • Overtime and Double Time: Be aware of this expense so you can plan and budget accordingly. Depending on location, overtime typically kicks in around the seven or eight hour mark.
  • Normal Business Hours: When your event starts, ends, and what day of the week it lands on matters. Normal business hours are generally 7am or 8am through 5pm, Monday to Friday. Shifts after 5pm, on weekends, or holidays can be billed at overtime or double time rates.


Bringing in specialty services
If bringing in an outside service provider, understand the roles of your team and the in-house crew. In the instance of outside AV personnel, for example, shadowing or union supervision may be required. Also, know that electricians are typically supplied by the venue.


Expect the unexpected
Anticipate unexpected budget items. Schedules can run over, breaks can be missed, things happen. Savvy planners have a cushion for unexpected onsite time.

These are only hints- specific union rules vary tremendously across the country and even across cities. It's best to understand and respect why unions exist, why rules and regulations have been developed, and then plan accordingly.