How to Manage in a Diverse Union Labor Environment

David Salcfas

By David Salcfas

Jan 10, 2021

We have all had jobs that make us better leaders in our industry.  Earning the respect from your team members doesn’t just happen, you need to work for it each and every day.  This has never been more real than when you work in a diverse union labor market.

Hospitality Employee Basic Needs

  • Be treated with respect
  • Right tools to do their job
  • Transparent communication 
  • Someone that understands their job 

In our industry, managers will come and go as they pursue their next job opportunity to grow in their career. The actions you perform in your job today will leave a legacy of you tomorrow.

Whether the employees are union or non-union, it should make no difference in providing the best possible work environment for them.  Leading by example will ensure the quality of services is provided for our customers.  Sometimes managers get busy and distracted and find yourself juggling several balls at the same time. That leads to mistakes and unfortunately leads to a wrong working environment.  Maintaining your emotional composure is key, to not only achieve the overall business success, but your success as well.

An Example: Restaurant Manager Mistake in a Union Venue

You will be challenged many times along the way. Consider this scenario that will help you overcome these potential obstacles.

The new manager does the schedule and posts it accordingly. The restaurant outlet has a surge in business one night and there is not enough time to call in more staff. The manager asks the server to help clear the tables and promises extra pay for their efforts. In a union environment, this is considered outside their normal job classification.

Union Outcome & Increased Labor Costs

This happens a few more times over the next month and ultimately turns into a “past practice” after the employee’s delegate (also known as shop steward) realizes the scenario. The past practice is when it can be considered an everyday work assignment agreed upon as requested by management.

Ultimately it has to go thru an arbitration. Based on the facts, ruling is in favor of the union’s claim.  The property then has to live with it because the department schedule was not properly managed.

If the manager would have been proactive with their thought process, communication and seek to understand the work rules of each job classification, this could have been avoided. Obviously the intention of the manager was to provide the necessary service for the guest based on that specific night’s circumstances. However this also lead to thousands of dollars in additional labor costs.  More importantly the manager’s perception has been damaged and may be deemed ineffective.

Remember there is no such thing as “can you do me a favor.”  Ensure you understand the dynamics of the work environment, read the union contract and think about what could happen before it ever does.

Lessons Learned in a Hospitality Union Environment

There are so many situations that arise whose complexity is under estimated until you are on the front lines and need to make a split second decision. The lesson that you quickly learn in a union labor environment is that you are measured by some practices that you never create.  However you will respected for being that leader that knows how to proactively communicate and hold yourself and others accountable. These are two leadership qualities that are essential in any work environment: Communication and Accountability. 

Talking about these real life experiences is how we can learn and understand how to deal with an array of scenarios. There are no two alike and that’s what makes it interesting.  If you have the opportunity to lead in a diverse union labor market, then you can lead in any business.

Learn from your staff with an open mind and ask plenty of questions. Be humble and always treat others the way you want to be treated.

About the author

David Salcfas

David Salcfas is founder of iYou Hospitality Consulting and consultant at Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. As a hospitality industry veteran, he has developed expertise around refining your interview skills, operating in a diverse labor union market and managing through a transition/divestiture. David has served as an Executive Committee Member in twenty three positions at sixteen hotels across five brands for Marriott International and several restaurants. Additionally, he serves as the Northeast Business Council Guidance Team Leader. David earned his Bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management and Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University and takes an active role as an Alumni, including mentoring and participating in speaker panels for the university.  He recently received the 2023 JWU Alumni Service Award!

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