Roundtable Recap: Students discuss card check, Airbnb, and $15 minimum wage

By: Kelly Junghyun Kim ’20
A male and a female student sit behind a table.

SHA and ILR students participate in the Labor Relations in Hospitality Roundtable

In early December 2019, the Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER) and students from HADM 4810/ILR 4060 – Labor Relations in the Hospitality Industry hosted the Labor Relations in Hospitality Roundtable at Statler Hall. The 34 students, along with members of CIHLER and the hospitality workers organization UNITE HERE, focused the discussion on the impact of card check neutrality, changing technology, and the push for a higher minimum wage in the hospitality industry. The session was enhanced by a high level of engagement from the students as they gave their opinions backed up by personal experiences.

Labor and management have different takes on the benefits of card check

During the roundtable discussion about labor law requirement for card check recognition, participants provided a variety of arguments regarding coercion.

Union and employee representatives asserted that card check is an important tool that gives workers a voice by making it easier for them to form and join unions without harassment. Mike Kramer, organizing director of Local 26, stated that management should view unionization not as a loss of power, but rather as an opportunity to have equal power and voice within the workplace. He additionally claimed that fear among workers is present in all stages of work, therefore, private voting will not eliminate the anxiety.

Some management participants disagreed, saying that the democratic process of private-ballot voting minimizes the fear of coercion by ensuring workers are allowed to make private decisions without pressure from other employees. In addition, just because card check makes it easier for unions to organize doesn’t mean workers are better off, as the benefit of unionization is questionable.

As an alternative for card check, management participants said they believed that basing negotiations on the ethical principles laid out by Richard Bensinger and Dick Shubert for the Institute for Employee Choice was a better option. They stated that card check puts pressure on workers to sign cards even though they might have a lack of information as to the choices available and the possible negative consequences. Basing negotiations on ethical principles, on the other hand, means that the welfare of the employee is the number one concern. It ensures that both sides are attempting to “do what is right” for the worker without coercion and with a set standard of behavior, they said.

Regulation of Airbnb/home share is necessary

The roundtable discussion on the era of Airbnb/home share, select service hotels, and technological changes lead to the highest level of student participation stemming from students’ own experiences of working or staying in these types of properties. The discussion covered a variety of issues such as job losses, fraud, safety, security, and property laws.

Both sides agreed that regulation was necessary. The participants supporting management argued that there should be a low level of regulation because competition is inevitable and these alternatives allow people with low incomes to enjoy the luxury of travel. Union hotels should embrace the competition to improve upon themselves. However, some participants from the union side claimed that strict regulations of listings, individual contracts, safety, and security is needed. All agreed that survival of the union hotel is dependent on the regulations.

Currently, laws are being implemented and Airbnb is improving to fulfill the requirements for safety and security. Miami requires all Airbnb properties to have business licenses and follow building and housing standards to control for safety and property ownership. Airbnb has implemented a special higher-rating program where hosts receive the status of Airbnb Plus when they have “exceptional quality, comfort, and style” with accurate photos of their properties to control for fraud.

Four students sit behind a table.
ILR and SHA students during the roundtable discussion.

Raising minimum wage to $15 could bring new labor problems

During the roundtable segment Fight for $15, participants discussed how the increase of state and local minimum wage would impact hospitality industry labor relations. The participants theorized that the raise in wages will stimulate the market, which in turn will increase the income of workers, ultimately closing the income gap through competitiveness. However, some participants believed that the increase of wage levels is currently faster than the increase in revenue growth; therefore, there is more investment in automation technology, resulting in a decrease of jobs.

Given the differences in opinion about the issue, participants discussed feasible options to improve the situation. Mike Kramer, the union representative, claimed that there could be a cliff effect from an increase in income, making it harder for those with lower incomes to live. To tackle this issue, there should be a robust union contract to protect lower income wage earners and close the income gap. Since big and small businesses have different levels of impact, making distinctions between them was also suggested as a solution that could benefit the hospitality industry as a whole.

Learn more about the intersection of management, employees, and the law by visiting  Cornell Center for Innovative Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER).