A Look Back at 2019 and a Look Ahead to 2020

February 19, 2020 12:00 AM

By Peter Ward

As we look ahead to 2020 let’s also take a last look back at some of the significant events in our union during 2019. It’s a good reminder of what can be accomplished through our solidarity and determination.

We began the year by announcing what is unquestionably the largest pension increase in the 81-year history of our union. This was particularly impressive when one realizes that at the time this increase was announced the HTC pension was already the largest pension anywhere in the hotel industry.

The increase was, at minimum, a full and immediate 50% for eligible members who retired on or after January 1, 2019 with 25 years of service; and it was an even higher percentage increase for members with more than 25 years of service — as high as 85%!

This major pension increase applies to more than 27,000 Hotel Trades Council members who were employed on or after January 1, 2019 in New York City shops that are part of the Industry-Wide Agreement.

As almost all members are aware, pension amounts are determined by the number of credits that have been earned. On January 1, 2019 the value of the pension credit for those still working increased immediately from $40 per credit for the first 25 years of employment to $60 per credit. That translates into a $1,500 a month pension, representing a 50% increase, for members who retire at age 65 with 25 years of service.

And since many members work more than 25 years, the rate of the increase will often be more generous than 50%. That’s because the bonus for years of credited service past 25 was hiked from $20 per year to $60 per year! As an example, members with 40 years or more on the job now qualify for a pension of $2,400 per month, quite an increase over the then maximum pension of $1,300 a month. This represents an 85% increase for members who qualify for the maximum monthly pension.

The pension increase wasn’t the only good news to start off the year of 2019. We were also happy to announce that a new Health Center will be built in Queens. As you can see from elsewhere in this edition, planning on this exciting project has already begun. An architect and a construction company have already been chosen, building permits have been obtained and designs have been created.

In 2019 our union awarded a record $408,000 in scholarships, raising the individual grants from $8,000 per student to $12,000 each. This was made possible through the generosity of Mr. Mario Gabelli, who in the last four years has contributed $181,000 to our union’s scholarship fund. We are immensely grateful for such generous support, and we proudly note that since 1987 a total of $8,760,000 in college grants has been awarded to a total of 1,078 children.of our members.

Another source of pride was that our union was featured in a positive light not only in several newspaper articles but also in an important report on the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), as well as a starring role in a best selling book.

The BBC feature covered our union’s role in advancing the idea of the use of panic buttons to provide a far safer work environment for hotel employees who have to deal directly with guests. Several members of our union were highlighted in this documentary segment of the BBC News, and the report commended our union for its work in leading the way in the use of these devices that are now required in many hotels around the world. This BBC feature provided us with the opportunity to reinforce our commitment to protecting the health and safety of our members. If you would like to see the BBC documentary you’ll find it at the union’s website: hotelworkers.org

Our union was also featured in a best selling book! It’s called "The Plaza," and it was written by New York Times reporter Julie Satow. The book featured an entire chapter that praised our union’s successful effort in 2003 to save the Plaza Hotel. But that’s not all. In an acknowledgement at the end of the book Ms. Satow saluted the members of our union and hotel workers in general. She wrote: “The lion’s share of my gratitude goes to the countless Plaza bellmen, doormen, housekeeping staff, and so many others who, over these many decades have worked their hardest to keep the historic building running so that all of us may enjoy it. I can never again walk into a hotel — the Plaza or any other hotel — without noting how much effort goes on behind the scenes to make things run."

Contract enforcement was a major activity in our union, as it always is. The union obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay for contract violations. In one instance alone, Sheraton New York management ultimately agreed to give $100,000 in back pay to banquet employees and further agreed to the union’s position of improved contract language going forward. In all, there were 118 arbitration decisions rendered in 2019 and the union reached more than 1,200 voluntary settlements!

The Benefit Funds Office continued to prove its dedication to members of our union and their families by implementing a new Member Service Area on the second floor of 305 West 44th Street.

The new Member Service Area is designed to be more inviting and fast moving. Now, staff personnel greet members at the reception area, check them in for service and either provide them that needed service on the spot or escort them to a qualified representative. There is comfortable seating available, too, along with a refreshing coffee station.

In 2019 we continued our recognition that our union has a responsibility to do more than just advocate for the workers we represent on a day-to-day basis. As we’ve said before, we believe our work should also be dedicated to changing and improving conditions in society that our members, their families and other working people need. One such area is criminal justice reform.
In 2017 HTC was instrumental in the successful campaigns to change the way interrogations and line-ups are used in New York State and raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age. The next year our union was part of the successful fight to establish a commission to review charges of prosecutorial misconduct and sanction and/or remove prosecutors, if necessary. This commission is the first of its kind in the United States!

This year we had the most success of all. Our union was a strong part of the victorious effort to change laws related to speedy trials, bail reform and discovery rights. On April 1, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed new laws that addressed all three of these issues.

The criminal justice reforms of 2017, 2018 and 2019 constitute sweeping change in the way the criminal justice system in New York State treats its poor, disadvantaged and working class citizens. We think these changes were long overdue and we are proud of our effort to help bring them about.

Our union also had a number of successful organizing drives and first contract negotiations in 2019, a real tribute to our organizing staff and our legal department. Our political and strategic affairs department did well, too, winning a number of important victories, not the least of which occurred in Jersey City, where we defeated Airbnb on a ballot initiative by a huge margin. We added 33 new shops and 2,342 new members to our union in 2019, successfully negotiated more than 45 new collective bargaining agreements — almost one per week! — as well as 188 side agreements. It was quite a year!

This quick overview of 2019 shows the great things that can happen through union solidarity. I promise you all that we can expect more great things to happen in 2020, too. Our union’s solidarity and dedication will make sure of that!