The hotel workers union in New York City yields outsized political influence, blocking projects that would turn hotels into residential housing or homeless shelters. That helps keep rents high and people on the streets, but protects jobs. It also ruins hotels.
It’s no surprise the city threatened to fine hotels tens of millions of dollars if they didn’t re-open and so some did bare bones re-opening, bringing back some workers, just to avoid the fines even though the projects were going to be money-losers for awhile.
The New York Times summarizes their power.
The Hotel Trades Council ranked among the top independent spenders in the election cycle of 2017, when all 26 City Council candidates endorsed by the union won. Some of these officials ended up on powerful land use and zoning committees, giving the union influence over important building decisions in New York.
The union is also powerful in dealing with hotels,
Some hotel owners, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say they are fearful of crossing the union, which has a $22 million fund that can compensate workers during strikes. In an interview, Mr. Maroko pointed out that the hotel industry is particularly vulnerable to boycotts.
New York hotels are a different world. One of my cousins was a food and beverage manager at a large convention hotel in the city while she was in college. She had to fire someone for drinking on the job – and when they went to replace the employee, that same employee was the only one the union would send to interview. There were few consequences for people who hid out in corridors and break rooms instead of working for most of the day.
One major luxury hotel in the city eliminated room service, and instituted delivery from their restaurant, as a strategy to renegotiate how room service would work. They couldn’t revamp the operation without closing it down for a year.
The union scored a victory last year getting the city to require a special permit to build a new hotel, a move that even the New York’s own planning experts said was insane. It limits hotel rooms in the city, driving up price. That’s good for existing hotel owners, but bad for visitors and the economy. It’s also bad for tax revenue as the city’s budget strains. The benefit to the union? New hotels might be non-union, but to get a permit they’re going to have to submit to the union.