President-elect Obama does not take office for another two months, but that didn’t stop hoteliers from dissecting whether or not his promise of “change” will benefit the hotel industry.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on 13 November 2008. The article was chosen as part of Hotel News Now’s look back at 10 years of the hotel industry.
NEW YORK—President-elect Obama does not take office for another two months, but that didn’t stop hoteliers from dissecting whether or not his promise of “change” will be good for the hotel industry during a concurrent session at the American Hotel & Lodging Association Hospitality Leadership Forum Saturday.
Geoffrey Ballotti, president and CEO of Group RCI, began the discussion on a positive note.
“Business should be and can be somewhat optimistic,” he said. “(President-elect Obama has) surrounded himself with some very bright and some very mainstream folks that are hopefully going to shape our agenda going forward.”
Those economic advisors include billionaire investor Warren Buffett, ex-Commerce Secretary William Daley and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.
Ballotti said No. 1 on the president-elect’s agenda is an economic stimulus package that will get the economy back on track and create jobs.
“Hundreds of folks are getting laid off. … The hotel industry employs a million and a half jobs. (It represents US)$200 billion in wages. Those wages are going to start to drop next year, which means tax revenue is going to drop, which means this cycle could be a lot worse than previous cycles.”
When asked if members from the hotel community should reach out to new members in Congress, Ballotti said it is an industry-wide responsibility.
The Employee Free Choice Act
On the topic of labor reform, Joy Rothschild, senior vice president of human resources for Omni Hotels, began with a disclaimer.
“For those of us who operate union hotels, we are not anti union. The better relations we have with our union representatives, the better the experience for the guest.”
Rothschild said the most important labor initiative in Congress is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would eliminate private ballot elections for unionization and give hotel operators and union representation 120 days to negotiate a contract before it is passed on to a government arbitrator.
“The industry is extremely worried about this because, and I can tell you from personal experience, getting the cards (necessary to form a union) is a mission, and it doesn’t stop at the workplace.”
She said that because the voting process is made public, employees who vote against a union may be subjected to harassment and intimidation not only in the workplace but at their homes.
But Rothschild’s outlook had a silver lining.
“On the positive side though, the fact that a minority has been elected to the highest office in the land can only be good for tourism and will improve America’s image.”
A view from Congress
While the president-elect has dominated much of the conversation, Jeanne Morin, principal of Jefferson Government Relations, reminded attendees that the implications of a primarily Democratic Congress cannot be ignored.
“Democrats are under extreme pressure to produce results quickly,” she began, adding that they will likely avoid the most contentious issues and instead will focus on more favorable targets like an economic stimulus package.
She said that package could be a good vehicle for the Travel Promotion Act, which was passed in the House of Representative last year but stalled when the Senate took recess.
“It would establish a public-private partnership that would allow an organization to explain to people in other countries what our policies are for obtaining visas and entry into the country, and it would also provide some marketing … about the United States as a welcoming place (to visit).
“It can be very easily cast as economic stimulus,” Morin said.
While the travel and hotel industries push for those favorable measures, she said unions will also be working towards their own agenda.
“They put a lot into this election, and they expect a lot in return.”
On the top of that agenda is the Employee Free Choice Act, passage of which Morin said may ultimately come down to undecided senatorial races in Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota.
Because the legislation will likely be voted down party lines, the Democrats, who now hold 57 seats in the Senate, are only three shy of the 60 seats needed to block a potential filibuster and pass the act into law.
Regardless of its fate in Congress, Moring said the Employee Free Choice Act will serve as precedent for future labor reform.
“How the Senate and the business community deal with this issue is going to have a dramatic effect on how this Congress deals with labor issue for the next two years and perhaps longer than that.”