A Report from HTC President Rich Maroko

Hotel Voice, Fall 2021

By HTC President Rich Maroko

Updated September 2, 2021:

After an incredibly difficult year, the New York and New Jersey hospitality and gaming industries have finally started to slowly recover. And while we’ve seen many hotels, clubs, and casinos reopen, the majority of our members are still not back to work.


Hotels: In hotels, the recovery has been driven primarily by domestic leisure travel. This summer we have seen that segment steadily rise, with occupancy rates topping 65% at open hotels in July. However, because open hotels are generally running on relatively low occupancy and are offering limited, if any, amenities, most notably, food and beverage, the majority of hotel workers have not been recalled. I expect that over the fall and winter months, we will see hotel occupancy levels continue to increase, especially as attractions like Broadway reopen and travelers get more comfortable. But given strict restrictions on international travel to the United States and very limited business travel, we almost certainly won’t return to pre-pandemic levels of travel anytime this year. Which means that, while many of our members will be recalled this year, many more are facing even longer layoffs.

Clubs: The recovery of private clubs is similar to that of the hotels, driven by the demand of each club’s membership to return. As of early-July, nearly all of the Local 6 Clubs had started to reopen, albeit with fewer services and limited recalls.

Gaming: The gaming industry’s recovery has been drastically different, limited not by customer demand, but by the state’s self-imposed limits on capacity and hours of operation. Unlike hotel workers, the gaming industry was not deemed essential by the state and almost all of our gaming members were laid off in March 2020. Since New York Governor Cuomo began gradually easing restrictions in September 2020, our gaming members have been quickly recalled. Today, all of the union-represented casinos and racetracks have reopened and over 70% of our members in the industry are back at work. We are hopeful that the casinos will near full capacity in 2021.


Safety at work: For those of you who have returned to work, our absolute top priority is workplace safety. Earlier this summer, the Union negotiated the latest Coronavirus Safety Protocol or “CSP,” which you can read about here. This latest agreement continues most of the protections in previous CSPs, modifies those no longer recommended by the CDC, and, most importantly, adds additional protections against airborne transmission of the virus. It also acknowledges that the absolute best protection against contracting COVID-19 is the vaccine by giving working members at covered hotels the ability to get vaccinated on paid time and providing an extra 20 paid sick days if they still c COVID-19 despite being vaccinated.

Wages and Benefits: Our Union’s members are also benefiting tremendously from having long-term contracts. Aside from a handful of union shops that have filed for bankruptcy, relief, or permanently closed, all of the benefits, rights, and protections in our master contracts – not to mention, the annual wage increases, which were implemented in the midst of the pandemic and again during this recovery – are in full force.

Recall Rights: For laid off members, the primary concern is the right to go back to your jobs. While I can’t say when you will be recalled, I can assure you that under all of our master contracts: the IWA and Division A in New York City and the GRIWA in Long Island, New Jersey, Upstate, the Capital Region, the Catskills, and Westchester, there is absolutely no time limit on your recall rights. Many of you may have read in the news about laid off non-union hotel workers – and even union workers in other cities – who have been fired during the pandemic. That is because those workers either did not have a union contract, or had a contract with limited recall rights. You can rest assured that this cannot happen to you.

New Assistance for Laid Off Workers: While I expect business to continue to pick up and another half-dozen properties to reopen this fall, realistically, many union members will not be called back to work until next year. State and federal protections are starting to wind down, including the extra $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, 13 weeks of extended benefits, and free COBRA subsidy, which will all end in September. Once these programs end, the reality is that many of you may need to look for temporary work while waiting to be recalled to your union jobs. There are new resources available to provide members with useful information about trying to find work. Read more here.

Getting You Back to Work A.S.A.P.: Most importantly, the Union has been focusing all of its resources on trying to accelerate the pace of recall. Not only are we aggressively enforcing our contract provisions that prohibit managers from doing certain things while you remain on lay off, like doing union work, creating combination jobs, or scheduling overtime while others within a classification are laid off – all of which, in turn, might require hotels to recall more workers – but we are finding creative ways to incentivize hotels to reopen. For example, earlier this summer, we worked with the City of New York to temporarily waive the hotel room occupancy tax, thereby lowering costs for travelers. We’re also enforcing certain requirements under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act against a number of employers who remain closed indefinitely to encourage them to reopen. And most notably, we’re fighting to prevent hotels from unilaterally eliminating services in a way that would drastically reduce their workforce over the long-term. The biggest threat in that area: national efforts to eliminate daily room cleanings, which would not only affect thousands of our members in housekeeping, but guest health and safety, as well.


Our Union’s survival has always depended on our ability to predict the industry’s next scheme to reduce labor costs and then stop it before it starts. We did this years ago for example, before the industry began to try and subcontract out bargaining unit work. The latest strategy employed by hotel companies around the country has been to use the pandemic as cover to fire over half of all housekeeping employees by eliminating daily room cleanings under the guise of “guest safety.”

Across the country, major chains including Marriott and Hilton have stopped daily room cleanings at the height of the pandemic. They’ve marketed it as a “safety precaution,” despite scientists and public health experts repeatedly confirming the importance of daily room cleanings to prevent the spread of the virus. But in boardrooms and investor meetings, hotel executives alike have admitted that they aren’t motivated by health concerns, but that they are using the global crisis as a self-serving opportunity to “start fresh” and permanently reduce housekeeping costs.

Jim Risoleo, the CEO of Host, the largest Real Estate Investment Trust in the world and the owner of many Marriott hotels, said during meetings with investors that the company views this crisis as “an opportunity to redefine the hotel operating model” by eliminating "the incremental cost associated with housekeeping.” Similarly, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta stated that they are using the crisis as an opportunity to increase profits by “creating more labor efficiencies, particularly in the area of housekeeping” and concluded that “when we get out of the crisis, [hotels] will require less labor than they did pre-COVID.”

In a time of unprecedented hotel layoffs, the employers’ strategy is ruthless: eliminating daily room cleanings to slash room attendant jobs, engaging in marketing campaigns to persuade travelers it’s somehow a good idea to forgo room sanitization, and pocketing millions more dollars each year as a result.

The harm for room attendants is almost incalculable. If the elimination of daily room cleanings becomes permanent, an estimated 180,000 housekeeping jobs nationwide could be eliminated – including over 13,500 room attendant jobs in the New York City area alone. All told, it could wipe out at least $4.8 billion in annual wages.

In addition to the jobs lost, at hotels where daily room cleanings have been eliminated, the room attendants who remain working are left with dirtier rooms, more check-out rooms, and much heavier workloads.

Sometimes, the American public lets itself be fooled into thinking that when businesses cut jobs and wages, the savings are passed on to the consumer. That’s just false. Reduced staff and lower wages mean worse jobs for workers and a lower quality product for the public. Only the owners of the company benefit. 


Fortunately, we have been able to fend off this threat and protect our members’ work in negotiations, in arbitration, and through local legislation.

In our first Coronavirus Safety Protocol (CSP), signed just two weeks after the pandemic hit the New York area in March 2020, we negotiated a critical provision that safeguarded daily room cleanings. We renegotiated the CSP in June 2020, August 2020, and once again this past June to reflect new research and changing conditions— and throughout, we fought to protect continued daily room cleanings. Under these agreements, hotels are required to service stay over and checkout rooms daily. This agreement now covers over 18,000 union jobs at more than 130 properties through April 2022.

In June 2020, we worked with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Speaker of the State Assembly Craig Coughlin, and our allies in the New Jersey State Legislature to protect housekeeping and front desk jobs – union and non-union – through a new state law. The law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, requires daily room cleanings and minimum front desk staffing levels.

And the Union has been going to arbitration against employers intent on eliminating daily room cleanings. We argued that stopping daily room cleanings violated the past practice, and the contract by changing the quota.

As I write to you, the first two decisions have been issued against the Freehand Hotel and the Le Meridien Central Park. In both cases the Impartial Chairperson sided with the Union. “The Union’s case is rock solid,” wrote the arbitrator in both decisions. In the Freehand decision, the arbitrator noted that “the changes made here were not one-offs; they were implemented with intended continuity, and they directly impacted the workload of the Room Attendants. Cleaning a stay over is easier than doing a checkout, particularly one that may not have been cleaned for a few days or more.” Now, in addition to the CSP, we can rely on precedent from the Office of the Impartial Chairperson to prevent companies from doing away with daily room cleanings and keep thousands of our housekeeping members employed. We are awaiting additional decisions in other cases.

While our members are protected against the newest threat – we still have work to do. Things like enforcing our contract protections – we have already discovered and fixed dozens of violations – and helping other hotel worker unions in cities across the country achieve what we have. And we must remain vigilant. This is certainly not going to be our last fight to protect our jobs. Employers are constantly looking for new ways to take advantage of this crisis to increase their profits. Now, more than ever, we must maintain a strong Union by having strong delegates, a militant, politically active, and savvy membership, and a smart and talented leadership and staff.

In Solidarity,

Rich Maroko

HTC President