The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council was born in of Depression-era struggles to improve conditions for employees of New York City hotels, restaurants and private clubs. Several unsuccessful strikes and the emergence of a powerful Hotel Association representing the employers, spurred this effort. In April of 1938 the Council was formed as an umbrella group of five AFL-affiliated unions and given sole authority to bargain for those unions. Over the years many other independent unions and locals have affiliated with the Council. The Council took on the work of administering welfare funds and running training and community service programs for its affiliates as a group.
In the early 1930s conditions for workers in New York hotel and restaurant industry were harsh. Hours were long, work was seasonal, benefits were non-existent and there was no minimum wage. To make matters worse, gangsterism, which had flourished in the years of Prohibition, was rife in the industry. The The American Federation of Labor-affiliated Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union concentrated its efforts on restaurant workers to the detriment of unskilled and semi-skilled workers in hotels. The failure of a 1934 strike sparked by a walkout of kitchen and dining room workers at the Waldorf Astoria led to several mergers of small independent unions attempting to gain leverage in confrontations with the powerful Hotel Association, representing hotel owners. In 1937 a newly formed Hotel, Restaurant and Cafeteria Employees Organizing Committee, led by left-wing militants, Jay Rubin, Miguel Garriga and Michael Obermeier, ran a hugely successful organizing campaign that further raised expectations.
In February 1938 eleven locals merged to form Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 6. Local 6 was given juridiction over all hotel employees except those who were already members of building trades unions. On April 26, 1938 five unions joined together to form the Hotel Trades Council: H.E.R.E., Local 6; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 3; Building Service Employees International Union, Local 32A; International Brotherhood of Operating Engineers, Locals 94 and 94A; and International Brotherhood of Firemen, Oilers and Maintenance Mechanics, Local 56. The Council's first victory, in March 1938, was an agreement by the Hotel Association all grievances of union members would be taken up with the HTC. In subsequent years many other unions or locals either merged into Local 6 or joined the Council individually. In terms of numbers, Local 6 was the largest group in the Council and the most active in its affairs.
Jay Rubin was elected as first president of the Council, a position which he held until his retirement in 1978. Born in Gradno, Poland in 1904, Rubin had worked as and upholsterer and a baker before becoming a union organizer. He served on the Executive Board of the New York Central Labor Council and the Executive Bopard of the New York Copnvention and Visitors Bureau. A champion of improved health care for workers, he was an officer of the Hospitl Review and Planning Council of Southern New York, the New York State Advisory Board of Medicaid, and the Labor-Management Council of Health and Welfare Plans. Rubin died in New York City on August 12, 1990.
In January 1939 the Council concluded a comprehensive wages and hours agreement, with strong support from New Deal state and municipal authorities. Among its historic provisions were time-and-a-half pay for overtime, paid vacations, free uniforms, a curb on split shifts, dues checkoff, an anti-discrimination clause, no dismissal for union activity, and establishment of an arbitration procedure. While some hotels signed the agreement immediately, many others held out for years -- the last few signing in the 1950s.
In 1944 the HTC achieved an industry-wide, employer-financed and union-managed benefits program. A Hotel Joint Employment Agency was established under the 1949 contract -- a major remedy against seasonal fluctuations and discriminatory or arbitrary hiring practices; after a period of adjustment this no-fee agency was fully functioning by 1951, when 22,000 jobs were supplied to members. A Health Center, offering free basic medical care to hotel workers and their families, was opened in 1950. In 1966 the Hotel Trades Council established the Neighborhood Service Councils, which provided members with a wide range of services, from housing assistance to legal advice and medical referrals. It has also run a Hotel Industry Training Program, including a school for for young people seeking work in the industry and for workers interested in upgraing or changing their category of employment.
Over the years the Council expanded to include unionized painters, telephone operators, maintenance workers, upholsterers, clerical workers and others employed in hotels, restaurants and clubs. By the 1980s, when the Council was headed by Rubin's successor, Vito J. Pitta, the HTC represented 25,000 members affiliated with nine locals of eight international unions. While continuing to struggle against economic downturns, and anti-union or dishonest employers, especially in smaller enterprises throughout the City, the Council claims to offer, through its contracts, the best wages and benefits available to hotel workers anywhere in the world.