Staff at 10 New Jersey hotels will be the latest to join the powerful hotel workers union, as the labor movement pushes to organize leisure and hospitality workers hit hard by the COVID pandemic.
The Hotel and Gaming Trades Council said that it had opened its first New Jersey office in Montclair on Wednesday, the same day that 140 hotel workers voted to ratify their contracts with the union.
Workers at hotels in Rutherford, Secaucus, Parsippany and East Rutherford were among those to join the union, which has seen “rapid growth” in the Garden State, the council said in a statement Thursday.
An estimated 40,000 employees are represented by the union across New Jersey and New York, including 6,000 staff at 57 New Jersey hotels, the group said.
“By voting to ratify these contracts, these workers are winning significantly higher wages for themselves, affordable health care for their families, and a pension plan that will see them through retirement,” HGTC President Richard Maroko, a longtime labor attorney who is also a member of NJ Transit’s board of directors, said in the statement. “All will make more under their union contract than they did before.”
The newly organized workers were all at Extended Stay America hotels, including two in Secaucus and others in Rutherford, East Rutherford, Elizabeth, Piscataway, Woodbridge, Parsippany, Edison and Franklin, the union said.
Representatives from Extended Stay were not immediately available for comment.
Hotels, restaurants, theme parks and other parts of the leisure and hospitality sector have struggled to fill positions over the past two years as COVID-19 business restrictions waxed and waned and the nation rode out a roller coaster of new variants.
“The low wages, irregular schedules, and difficult work environments that are common in the hospitality industry have contributed to the shortage of workers willing to fill these positions,” said Todd Vachon, a Rutgers University professor and director of the school’s Labor Education Action Research Network, which partners with worker-rights groups.
“Union representation and the corresponding increase in pay, benefits and working conditions could definitely help to draw more people to work in these occupations,” he said.
Union membership historically has been low in those sectors.
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Across the New York City metro area, 2.5% of leisure and hospitality employees were unionized in 2019 and 2020, according to a September 2020 report from the City University of New York. That includes workers throughout northern and central New Jersey as well as New York and Connecticut.
A 2018 report focused just on New Jersey found 14.9% of workers in leisure and hospitality were in a union, according to Rutgers. The figure was boosted by more than than 8,000 workers at the nine resort casinos in Atlantic City who are represented by UNITE HERE Local 54.
A union push in Starbucks cafes has also grabbed headlines recently. More than 100 franchises are in the midst of organizing efforts according to CNBC, including two Buffalo, New York, locations and another in Mesa, Arizona that voted in favor this year. Workers at a Starbucks in Hopewell Township announced similar plans this January.
“The highly visible organizing efforts – including many successes – of Starbucks employees have inspired other workers in these typically difficult to organize occupations to take action,” said Vachon, the Rutgers professor.
“The choice by many workers to quit or just not accept low-paying jobs has empowered those that are employed in low-wage jobs to take this sort of action to try and improve their jobs.”