As many Meeting Planners already know, Unite Here's contracts with a large number of hotels in significant meeting markets either have or will expire shortly. Recently, Unite Here released the Meeting Planner Resource Manual, which it describes as a guide for meeting planners to use for hotel contracts. In reality, the manual has so many flaws that it will not be much help when negotiating contracts.

As a lawyer who frequently works with hotels and meeting planners on contracts, I found many problems with this manual. Here are just a few:

  • Unite Here recommends that planners make handwritten changes to hotel contracts, although any lawyer would advise that handwritten changes to contracts are not a good idea.

  • Unite Here suggests using lengthy addenda to alter provisions in hotel contracts, when it is always preferable to negotiate changes to specific clauses rather than have competing forms.

  • Unite Here provides misleading information about attrition and cancellation clauses and the amounts that hotels are legally entitled to collect from groups, in an attempt to unfairly and significantly reduce the amounts that a group would owe for canceling or not filling its block.

  • Unite Here recommends that planners demand a clause allowing a group to cancel without obligation in the event of labor disputes or strikes, when the law does not support such clauses.

It is important that meeting planners understand that the clauses suggested by the union are based upon misinterpretations of the law and an unwillingness to acknowledge the value of the contractual commitment made by the group.

The real goal of Unite Here's guide is to help the union gain leverage over hotels in labor negotiations. The new publication urges planners to negotiate contracts that are poorly worded, open-ended, or allow groups to cancel because of a strike or labor dispute. Unfortunately, the union's advice is contrary to good contracting practices and, in many cases, to the law itself.

Although Unite Here may benefit if a contract is canceled in the event of a strike or boycott, your group will not. The group will still have to find a new location for the event. The related logistical problems, including finding a new location, increased costs and fewer concessions at the new location, costs of reprinting materials, loss of speakers and participants, and general loss of good will, could quickly become a nightmare. Moving an event to another location, especially on short notice, is always damaging to a group, even if there are no cancellation damages to pay to the hotel.

Labor leaders should not be viewed as experts in the complexities of contracts between groups and hotels. Planners should look to sources that have background, knowledge, and experience in hotel contracts. The American Hotel and Lodging Association has created its own Meeting Planner Guide, Meeting in the Middle. The AH&LA Guide recognizes there is no one “correct” clause or contract format, and that planners and hoteliers must negotiate terms based on the particular situation. The guide explains the purpose and legal background of key clauses and gives tips on successful negotiation. Additional information can be found on the new AH&LA labor-specific Web site,

Meeting contracts should be written to confirm a business agreement between the group and the hotel, not to advance the agenda of a third party — be it a labor union or anyone else. A good contract should be a mutual commitment in compliance with the law, not an agreement that gives one side unreasonable and unfair advantages.

Lisa Devlin is a lawyer who specializes in meeting contracts. She serves as a consultant to the American Hotel & Lodging Association and assisted in the development of the Meeting in the Middle brochure.