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Allies in Action Supporting Workers: Sierra Club

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WALKING THE WALK: Allies in Action Supporting Workers

The Sierra Club, with over 750,000 members, is America’s oldest and largest advocate for the environment. In 2005, planning was underway for the group to welcome several thousand activists to San Francisco for Sierra Summit 2005—a convention attended by delegates and members from across the country.

As a close ally of working people and their unions, the Sierra Club was aware that a labor dispute might erupt at one of the conference hotels. To avoid a potential collision with the Summit, the organization insisted on language in their hotel contract that would allow them to withdraw their booking without a financial penalty if the dispute had not been resolved.

This foresight and planning paid off. The Summit drew nearer, but the hotel had failed to reach an agreement with its workers. The decision, though difficult, was obvious: the Sierra Club would not give its business to a hotel that was refusing to do the right thing by its employees. Although it had booked over 1,000 rooms at the property, the group went ahead and cancelled the reservations.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope explained his organization’s decision by saying, “We stand with these workers who are fighting for the means to support their families and contribute to stronger communities. If you strip unions of their power to protect workers, you strip them of their power to help protect our air, water, and the places we call home.”

American Rights at Work applauds and supports the bold stand the Sierra Club, the National Council of La Raza, and other organizations and businesses have taken to stand in solidarity with the hard-working men and women in the hospitality industry.

Why Hotel Workers Are Rising!

Do you travel for work?
Do you use hotels for meetings or briefings?
Does your organization hold an annual conference, fundraising dinner, or awards ceremony?
If the answer is ‘yes’—then you already know about the multiple factors that go into the selection of a site: cost, location, amenities, etc.

Yet organizations and businesses are increasingly basing their decisions on another consideration: How do the hotels treat their workers?

Through their membership in UNITE HERE, tens of thousands of employees in the hospitality sector have gained family-supporting wages, benefits, safer and healthier workplaces, and a voice on the job.

Unfortunately, there are still many hospitality workers who do not have the benefits and protections of being a union member—and even workers with union representation have to fight to preserve the gains they have earned. That’s why hotel workers across North America are rising together, and that is why UNITE HERE and American Rights at Work are gathering support for their cause.

Why Do Hospitality Workers Want a Union?


Of all the lowest paying job categories, more than one third are in hotels and restaurants.1 In cities where UNITE HERE represents a large percentage of hotel workers, wages are higher:

  • In cities where almost all the hotels are union, wages average $15/hour—they are middle class, family supporting jobs.
  • But in cities where very few hotels are union, wages average only $7/hour—well below the poverty line.2


  • In the private sector, 92 percent of union workers have jobs providing access to medical care benefits, compared with only 68 percent of nonunion workers.3
  • Hotel workers are 48 percent more likely to be injured on the job than typical service workers.4
  • High room quotas force housekeepers to speed up their work, skip breaks, work off the clock, and risk injury.


While hotel workers deserve family-supporting wages and a shot at the American Dream, they also, like every other working person, want a voice on the job.

  • “We can question management without fear of losing our job.” — Jody Payne, banquet server at a union hotel
  • “If workers have a decent standard of living, they will give back to their communities. Instead of working three jobs, parents can do homework with their kids at night.” — Angela Reid, cook & banquet server at a nonunion hotel

How You Can Help Support Workers

  • Before you travel or plan a meeting, check out www.hotellaboradvisor.info.
  • Visit www.hotelworkersrising.org to sign up for campaign information and updates.
  • Go to www.americanrightsatwork.org, and join the American Rights at Work email activist list to receive ongoing updates and resources to help you advocate for workers’ rights!
  • Co-host a briefing about the campaign or invite workers to speak at your event. For more information, contact Jane Norman at jnorman[at]americanrightsatwork[dot]org.
  • Join INMEX, the Informed Meetings Exchange, that will assist in planning large events, or use contract language that allows you to support workers without penalty in the event of a labor dispute. For more information, contact Neal Kwatra at  nkwatra[at]unitehere[dot]org.

Help all workers get fair wages and a voice at work!


1 John E.Buckley,“Ranking of full-time occupations,by earnings, 2000,”Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review,Mar. 2002.
2 Based on UNITE HERE analysis of housekeeping wages in collective bargaining agreements. See UNITE HERE for more information about this data.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics,“Employee Benefits in Private Industry,”Mar. 2005, Aug. 2005.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, average figures for 2003 and 2004. For more information, see UNITE HERE, Creating Luxury,
Enduring Pain: How Hotel Work is Hurting Housekeepers, Apr. 2006.


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American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.


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