New President of Top Hotel Union Warns of Labor Showdown: ‘We Want Increased Wages’

gwen mills new president unite here hospitality workers union source unite here

Skift Take

New union leader Gwen Mills is preparing for tough negotiations as contracts between hotel groups and about 40,000 hotel workers are set to expire.

After the labor union Unite Here elected Gwen Mills its president on June 20, Mills said she expected a showdown over worker contracts with major hotel groups over the next year.

Mills said about 40,000 hotel workers in 22 markets in the U.S. and Canada have union contracts that might expire. The union may strike or take other organized action in the next year as they negotiate with Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, and other major brands.

“Hotel staffing per occupied room is down while revenue per room is up,” Mills said. “So hotels are making plenty of money. We want increased wages.”

Unite Here’s membership includes nearly 275,000 hospitality workers, making it North America’s largest union for hotel workers — especially for hotel housekeepers.

Skift spoke with Mills about her plans. This interview has been condensed for brevity. While the union also has members working in other sectors, such as gaming and institutional food service, we focused on hotels.

On Taking the Top Job

Mills is Unite Here’s its first woman president. When we asked her about the significance of this, Mills framed it as an overdue effort to better reflect the membership.

“Unite Here’s membership is predominantly women, people of color, and immigrants,” Mills said. “I think for the majority of our members, just to see themselves as women reflected in the leadership is a significant moment.”

On Key Issues for Hotel Workers

In the hotel sector, Mills said the union’s main concerns include helping workers earn a living wage and addressing issues related to reduced housekeeping services.

“Our members want to be able to earn enough to live where they work,” Mills said.

The union also wants to return to the pre-pandemic standard of daily housekeeping.

“There’s two aspects to this,” Mills said. “When you eliminate the daily housekeeping, that means that some rooms that used to be cleaned every day are now dirtier and harder to clean on average within the same allotted time as before — creating a heavier workload in a way. The second thing is the expectations of what guests can get for their money aren’t being met.”

Security for staff is another issue.

“Security issues exist for staff and guests,” Mills said. “Some hotels don’t have as much security as they used to, or you have people who are doing security who are also supposed to be, say, stocking things, too, and so keep stepping away from their security posts.”

Growth Ambitions

Unite Here is the fastest-growing private-sector union in the AFL-CIO. To boost growth further, Mills pledged to “double” the union’s annual investment in organizing drives to persuade non-members to join.

Mills also saw an opportunity to speak to hotel sector leaders over the coming years.

“Hospitality is fundamentally about people caring for guests,” Mills said. “So investment in hospitality workers seems to the union like a fundamental investment in their business, in their business model, in their guest experience. … My question to hotel group CEOs would be, ‘Why not work with the union to improve the quality of your employee’s experience and thereby make a better service for your guests?’”

Accommodations Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of hotels and short-term rental sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets, including international and regional hotel brands, hotel REITs, hotel management companies, alternative accommodations, and timeshares.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more hotels and short-term rental financial sector performance.

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.

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