A refreshing take on labor relations in the hospitality industry
In December 2019, students enrolled in ILR 4060/HADM 4810 – Labor Relations in the Hospitality Industry, gathered in a conference room in Statler Hall for the Labor Relations in Hospitality Roundtable to participate in a discussion on emerging topics within the field of labor relations in the hospitality industry.
While initially a six-member panel of industry experts led the discussion and debate, students quickly began to chime in with thoughtful comments. Student participants argued, on behalf of both labor and management, on topics such as card check neutrality, the challenges faced by union hotels in the era of Airbnb/home share, and the fight for a $15 minimum wage, showcasing their passion for the subjects instilled through the curriculum of their respective schools.
ILR and SHA: Leveraging differing curriculum in spirited debate
The most spirited debate ensued during the second topic: “Can union hotels survive in the era of Airbnb/home share, select/limited-service hotels, and technological change?” With a subject as dynamic and topical as this one, the roundtable quickly immersed itself in a multitude of aspects within the prompt—many of which were perhaps unforeseen by the moderator.
As Alex Adamek ’20 and Eden Letzkus ’19, both School of Hotel Administration (SHA) students, gave their opening statement on behalf of management, they raised points such as the cost-cutting potential of technology in hotels and the rise in popularity of the select/limited-service hotels (and the consequential decline in full-service hotels).
Conversely, Niamh Short ’21 and Julio Rodriguez ’20, two ILR School students, pitched on behalf of labor. They arguing for the regulation of Airbnb, a company whose sheer existence poses an existential threat to union hotels worldwide.
A complex topic: Airbnb’s effects on housing and hospitality
Samuel Epps, political director for Local 25 in Washington, DC, was quick to address the complexity of the topic. He discussed how companies such as Airbnb have worsened the affordable housing crisis nationwide—an issue vital to a large chunk of union hotel workers, who have been essentially forced to move further and further away from the cities in which their hotels of employment are located in order to find affordable housing for their families.
ILR students piggybacked off of Epps’s argument, seconding Rodriguez and Short’s call for health and safety regulations of home-sharing companies, however, Steven Carvell, SHA professor of finance, argued that regulating Airbnb and similar companies out of existence would ultimately be a negative force in the economy and would face significant legal opposition. Still, students from both ILR and SHA discussed their own experiences in unsafe Airbnbs, and the discussion concluded with an overall consensus that this topic was one that labor and management could, and should, work hand-in-hand on in order to save not just union hotels, but the hotel industry as a whole.
A pleasant surprise: Student engagement at an all-time high
At the conclusion of the roundtable, moderator Harry Katz, the Jack Sheinkman professor of collective bargaining and director of the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution at the ILR School, disclosed that he was pleasantly surprised with the level of engagement from the student participants of the roundtable. While the pre-selected student leaders for each topic have historically been the dominant student voices in the discussion, he observed that this time it was different, with almost every student present speaking at least once.
While the Airbnb debate was perhaps the most spirited, the other two topics garnered significant student participation, as well. The first discussion on the topic of card check neutrality was a perfect follow up to an organizing simulation completed by the class earlier in the semester; with every student knowledgeable on the topic from their own roles in the simulation, the debate flowed quite naturally.
Sophia Kanavos, SHA ’20, argued that the potential institution of the Protect the Right to Organize Act would destabilize America’s workplaces and impose a long list of dangerous changes to labor law. Quickly, however, students and panel members shifted the conversation to whether card check neutrality should be the law, or whether it should be outlawed. Upon the posing of this question, there was no shortage of students eager to participate, lending voices from all over the labor-management spectrum.
Overall, the roundtable served as the perfect culmination of the course as a whole. Students in ILR, who have spent the last four years learning about labor law, organizing, and bargaining, were effectively able to learn from their Hotelie counterparts—and vice versa.