Attorney Jim Hykel Wins COVID Pay and Staffing Cases For UNITE HERE Local 26

April 12, 2022

As hotels and universities reopen in the wake of the COVID pandemic, UNITE HERE Local 26 has been battling against unilateral changes that employers are blaming on the pandemic.  Pyle Rome partner Jim Hykel recently won two significant arbitration decisions pushing back against these changes.

In one case involving Tufts University, the University had agreed in the CBA to pay its dining workers during winter break, then during the pandemic claimed it could define winter break however it wanted. The Union challenged this obvious attempt to rob its members of paid time off. The Arbitrator agreed with the Union that winter break has always been when students were not on campus between the Fall and Spring semesters. He rejected the University's argument that it could direct employees back to work early just to avoid paying the benefit of their bargain.

In another case involving the Ritz-Carlton, the Union fought back against the post-pandemic practice of a number of hotels to bring back too few employees to perform the work that needs to be done. At the Ritz-Carlton, the Stewarding Department had always staffed at least three stewards during the day and evening and at least two stewards at night to keep the Hotel clean. Since reopening, the Hotel has consistently staffed less, claiming that less guests means there is less to clean. The Arbitrator acknowledged that there may not be as many dishes, pots, or pans to clean and therefore there might not be the need for as many day and evening stewards, but rejected the Hotel's argument that one steward could clean the entire hotel at night. There are just as many floors and counters to clean and trashcans to empty and it is an unreasonable workload to ask a single steward to do what two did before. Hard economic times do not give a Hotel permission to abuse its workforce.