19th Annual Labor & Employment Law Roundtable: Session 1

The Management Perspective

By: Apriele Minott
Photo of bartender wearing mask serves drink to hotel guest.

In December 2020, leading industry experts from the hotel management and union fields participated in a four-session roundtable chaired by David Sherwyn ’86 JD, ’89 (ILR), the John and Melissa Ceriale Professor of Hospitality Human Resources, and academic director of Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER).

 The roundtable’s first session addressed the current state of the hospitality industry from the management perspective and how it has been affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic. David Sherwyn was joined by CIHLER Management Advisory Board members, Cornell faculty and other industry experts.

Photo of Professors Dave Sherwyn and Rick Hurd attend a pre-pandemic roundtableable
Professor David Sherwyn (SHA/CLS) speaks at the 2017 SHA/CIHLER Labor Relations in Hospitality Roundtable.

The group discussed multiple related topics including furloughed employees with or without underlying conditions, who choose to remain at home for fear of contracting COVID-19; ongoing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) retaliation claims; potential impact of mandatory vaccinations for employees; and how union and management need to work together to overcome the hardships that the pandemic has caused.

Safety, pre-existing conditions

The participants explained how employees want to make sure they are working in safe environments that follow health protocols (i.e. social distancing, wearing masks, preventing employees who contracted COVID-19 from re-entering the premises while contagious). Keeping workers healthy isn’t cut and dry through. For instance, it was brought up that some previously minor pre-existing health conditions have become major issues now that they might cause a person to be more susceptible to COVID. COVID fatigue is also a raising concern. It is difficult and exhausting for employers and employees alike to stay vigilant with constantly changing guidelines, and seemingly never-ending restrictions.

Different markets, different challenges

The group then discussed the differences in the markets and how each reacted to the pandemic differently. An HR industry expert clarified that the pandemic’s impact on the markets, and even the attitudes of employees, depended on whether these markets were urban or suburban, and whether or not they were unionized. In general, the pandemic has brought HR topics to the forefront of the business world and is forcing discussions and decisions that would have been years in the making in a pre-pandemic setting.

Uncertainty and concessions

The largest challenge, however, seems to be the general feeling of uncertainty. According to one of the participants, the patience of the hospitality workforce has been impressive. But, with the holiday season pushing the infection rate higher, what happens next for the hospitality industry? How do employers and unions work together to make necessary concessions to keep businesses afloat while protecting both sides of the equation? The answer is unclear.

Thank you to the following participants:


Apriele Minott

Apriele Minott

Apriele Minott is a third-year law student at Cornell Law School and a 2018 graduate from the ILR School. In addition to pursuing her law degree, she is also a teacher's assistant to professors' Sherwyn and Wagner in the School of Hotel Administration.