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Organize 100,000 New Workers in 5 Years? UNITE HERE Says It Will

July 1, 2019, 10:44 AM

Organize, fight, win contracts. Repeat.

That was the central message UNITE HERE left hundreds of delegates during its three-day constitutional convention in Las Vegas last week. The union, one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most militant, carried that philosophy to the ambitious goals it set for itself over the next five years.

UNITE HERE President D. Taylor said his union would organize 100,000 new workers by the time it met again for another convention in 2024. It’s an almost unprecedented goal for the 300,000-member union that would represent a roughly 33% growth rate.

“We are in a moment of time where we have the opportunity to organize on a scale we have never seen in our lifetime,” Taylor told delegates. “This moment will not last. And by the way, it won’t wait on us.”

With the election for union president uncontested and no contentious changes to the labor organization’s constitution, Taylor’s organizing ambitions took center stage.

The union also pledged to get more of its members elected into political office, increase retirement security, and build a culture of inclusion and partnership within its ranks.

The radical goals came against a backdrop of aggressive contract fights. The union led thousands of Marriott workers to a work stoppage in 2018 and is shepherding thousands of airline catering workers to a potential strike later in the coming months.

Strength in Organizing

UNITE HERE is no stranger to ambitious goals.

At its last convention, the union set a goal of bringing in 50,000 new members between 2014 and 2019. Instead, it organized more than 62,000 workers.

Taylor characterized the organizing goal as a fight to bring freedom to workers: freedom to spend time with family, freedom to afford medical care, freedom to speak opinions, and freedom to have a decent living standard.

“Our campaigns and our fights really mean that our union is a union of freedom fighters,” Taylor told delegates. “Freedom fighters—we believe in freedom, we won our freedom, by God, we have our freedom.”

But perhaps just as surprising as the organizing targets is that the union wants a large number of those workers to come from the South.

The fight to organize workers in the traditionally anti-union South is a struggle for the moral soul of the nation, according to union organizer Marlene Patrick-Cooper. She’s the president of UNITE HERE 23, a far-reaching local that stretches from Washington to Biloxi, Miss., Houston, and Indianapolis.

“If we don’t change the South, we don’t change the country,” Patrick-Cooper said. “If we change the South, the South changes the country.”

Eye on the 2020 Election

President Donald Trump was a frequent subject of conversation during presentations and speeches at the convention. Multiple political guests spoke of the need to partner with UNITE HERE for electoral victories.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said that UNITE HERE’s political efforts, especially in Florida, could be crucial to who wins the presidency in 2020. The congressman said he’d work hard to help the union rally voters in the state.

“If we win Florida, we take back the presidency of the United States,” Gutiérrez said. “Watch Florida.”

Delegates later chanted “We can take it back,” when Secretary-Treasurer Gwen Mills said that what happens in Florida has an impact on union members nationwide.

UNITE HERE announced that it’d be dedicating resources to turning Nevada, Arizona, and Florida—three crucial swing states—blue next year.

‘No Contract, No Peace’

The union’s willingness to fight over contracts was on display June 26 when more than 1,000 convention delegates marched on the Palms Casino and Resort June 26 to demand that the facility bargain with the union.

“No contract, no peace,” the union members shouted. They marched under 100-degree heat, flanked by police officers cordoning off rush-hour traffic.

Station Casinos, the owner of the Palms, refuses to recognize or bargain with the union. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We’re gonna kick the crap out of Station to get a contract for the workers of the Palms and every other place,” Taylor told workers at the picket line.

It was an action meant to pressure Station Casinos but put on display the fight UNITE HERE brings to unionizing. It sent a clear message that the union intends to continue organizing, fighting, and winning contracts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cynthia Harasty at charasty@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com