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HR in Hospitality Conference Addresses Pandemic Concerns

A collaboration between the ILR School and the Hotel School brought the 15th annual  National HR in Hospitality Conference to the Loews Miami Beach Hotel this past June. The conference spanned over three days and attracted around 300 industry professionals. 


The conference was sectioned into sessions related to HR, Labor Relations, and Law, as well as several Expo and Plenary sessions. Topics in the HR sector included sessions titled: Enhancing your Workforce Through “Fair Chance Employment”, Tipping Strategies for Success, Navigating Visa Requirements for Hiring Foreign Workers, Maximizing Your Talent Development Strategies, Leveraging HR in a Franchised World, Gig work: Options and Challenges in an Emerging Landscape, Getting Ahead of the Future of Work, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 2.0 – Opportunities for Real Impact, and Crisis Management in a Tik-Tok World. 


The Law and Labor Relations panels included: What Issues are of Interest to the Plaintiff’s Bar, Wage & Hour Update, Union Organizing 2022, Union Negotiations 2022, Navigating Accommodations: Religion v. Disability, Labor and Employment Law and Policy Under the Current and Future Administrations and Civil Rights Division, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Updates, and Dispute Resolution after the New Law. 


Each of these sessions brought together industry professionals who were given the opportunity to share trends they have observed, best practices they have accumulated, or knowledge they have on new legislation relevant to the industry. 


A major theme of this year’s conference dealt with lingering concerns about how to cope with the effects of the pandemic in the hospitality field.


There was a substantial decline in hospitality business during the first year and a half of the pandemic. In some cities, demand has not gotten back to pre-pandemic levels. While there has been a pent-up interest in some vacation spots, for busy hubs like New York City and San Francisco, the volume still has not returned. 


Harry Katz, Jack Sheinkman Professor and Director of the Scheinman Institute, moderated a panel on current collective bargaining between UNITE HERE, the labor union that represents 300,000 workers, including employees at the major hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton.  


Management and unions are facing unique issues that must be dealt with in order to return the hospitality business to pre-pandemic levels. As the industry recovers, the issue for management is how to become an employer of choice when employees are still worried about safety issues and wages. During the peak of the crisis, employees began to reconsider their decision to work in the hospitality industry because of low pay, long hours, and safety concerns. Management will need to come up with some incentives to draw workers back to the industry. 


For a number of major hotel chains, this is a bargaining year, meaning that collective bargaining agreements are being renegotiated. Yet, substantial parts of the hospitality industry remain nonunion. Even in cities where unions have organized the major hotel chains, nonunion, independent hotels are growing to be a more sizable part of the industry and are competing with the union sector. And in the unionized sector, unions face a challenge from the fact that a significant amount of previously union  work has started to be outsourced to non-unionized workers such as in food service for hotels. 

These issues are sure to be part of the conversation at the next National HR in Hospitality Conference, which is scheduled for the first week of May, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona. In the past, the conference has invited and helped fund the attendance of 10-15 students from ILR and the Hotel School, and the conference organizing team is excited about once again allowing students to attend the conference.