About 150,000 members of the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE split off to form a new union, Workers United. The new union met last weekend for the first time in Philadelphia, and at that meeting voted to affiliate with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Most of the new Workers United members come from the “UNITE” side of UNITE HERE. That is, they were part of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. UNITE and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE, merged in 2004. About 40,000 of the 150,000 who left to form Workers United were hotel and hospitality industry employees.
So where does that leave UNITE HERE? The split is reported to have shrunk its ranks from about 450,000 members to about 300,000 members. However, Pilar Weiss, a spokesperson for Unite Here, says the 150,000 figure is not accurate, and she contends it’s closer to 50,000. She also says some of the elections in which locals voted to secede are in question. Nonetheless, most of the remaining members of UNITE HERE are hotel and hospitality industry workers.
Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, has called for the dissolution of the merger that crated UNITE HERE five years ago, saying the merger has failed and the union is falling apart. “This is a historic and unprecedented action that indicates just how serious and deep the rift in our union is,” stated Raynor in a press release. “The merger that created UNITE HERE needs to come to an end,” he added. Raynor hopes to dissolve the merger before his term as president is up this summer.
Raynor is at odds with John Wilhelm, president of the hospitality division of UNITE HERE, and the majority of the UNITE HERE general executive board, who want to keep the union together, Weiss says. “UNITE HERE remains committed to organizing and representing workers in the hospitality industry,” states Weiss.
Regarding the Workers United affiliation with SEIU, Wilhelm had harsh words for Andy Stern, president of SEIU. “Stern's attempt to adopt the Raynor splinter group is a transparent ploy to justify his hostile takeover of UNITE HERE jurisdiction,” stated Wilhelm in a press release. “Local unions representing more than two-thirds of UNITE HERE want no part of this SEIU takeover,” Wilhelm added.
Analysts contacted for reaction either didn’t respond by press time or said they aren’t sure at this point what the breakup of UNITE HERE means for hoteliers and, by extension, meeting planners. The American Hotel and Lodging Association had no comment on the matter.