As far back as the 18th century, labor unions have been tasked with the responsibility of protecting the rights of workers around the globe and across various industries. In the case of hospitality, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) was formed in 1891 and, in 2004, HERE merged with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE) to form UNITE HERE. The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council (Hotel Trades Council for short), on the other hand, is the union for hotel and gaming workers in New York and Northern New Jersey. This New York council joins the ranks of other hospitality-based local unions, like UFCW Canada Local 206. These unions are comprised of passionate hospitality professionals who have come together with the united purpose of winning dignity and higher standards in the hospitality industry and beyond.

Every hotelier understands these unions play an impactful and influential role. After all, the efforts made by unions on behalf of hospitality workers have earned many deserving employees wage increases, access to affordable healthcare, improved safety and better working conditions. However, labor unions have rather notoriously presented their own unique set of challenges over the course of their existence. These challenges have become especially apparent in the wake of new technology, namely the implementation of platforms that promise continued automation of employee tasks and service touchpoints. Many hotel properties experience resistance to new technology on behalf of union workers, and struggle to get approval for the modern technology they need. As you might imagine, this becomes increasingly problematic as hoteliers look to heightened industry standards, led by guest demands for a more convenient, frictionless travel experience.  

The good news is that times are changing as hotel unions work to empower hospitality staff, not keep them within the limiting confines of a legacy model. A number of factors are contributing to the unions embracing new technology. For one, the older generation is retiring, and the younger generation, who depend on mobile devices, automation and technology for communication and information, is quickly taking over the workforce. Union leaders have to be able to appeal to these workers.

Secondly, technology has evolved to the point that it is just bad practice not to embrace the opportunities afforded by mobile and digital advancements that have changed the paradigm of worker organization, creating new opportunities by connecting traditional tactics with new technologies. In primary and emerging markets globally, the Knowcross Management platform has been able to transform the day-to-day operations of housekeepers and hotel maintenance teams, allowing them to provide the highest level of service with ease.

Automation Isn’t the Enemy

Employee fear of tech-enabled automation, especially within the hospitality industry, is ever-apparent. We’ve reached a rather critical turning point, in which the wide-spread adoption of modern technology is necessary to meet guest expectations, but an influx of technology makes employees undeniably nervous. As new-age platforms steadily transform hotel operations of the past to the more streamlined, intuitive, and tech-enabled models of the future, certain questions arise, such as:

1. Will continued innovation and automation eliminate jobs?

2. How will self-service platforms and customer service technology impact an industry that is defined by the provision of high-touch service?

3. Will machine and mobile efficiency start to outwork human staff?

4. Will the hotels of the future be run by kiosks and robots rather than human beings?

5. How can hospitality professionals advocate for technological innovation and employee rights in equal measure?

Within this conversation, it’s essential to realize that automation is not always the enemy. Work within hospitality is not going away; new jobs will be created, and the context of existing jobs will simply change or potentially be enhanced by technology. And while we cannot deny, or prevent, the continued emergence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, those platforms do not account for the entire picture of technological innovation. As articulated by Unite Here’s president, D. Taylor, “You are not going to stop technology. The question is whether workers will be partners in its deployment or bystanders that get run over by it.” In the case of hospitality, the continued deployment of technology is not to eliminate jobs but to personalize the guest experience in ways which was not before possible. After all, there is no replacement for traditional hospitality. Those founding principles remain firmly intact. Technology should be leveraged to enhance conventional experience with modern conveniences.

Let’s consider the revolution of former front desk processes and point-of-sale tools. In the past, hotel sales staff had no other option but to manually track and respond to leads, hand-write thank-you notes, and rely on cash deposit boxes and immobile, cumbersome FOH management systems. Admittedly, the gradual transformation of these processes appeared daunting at first, but look at the potential we have since unlocked. Front desk lines and unnecessary delays or manual mistakes that negatively impact the guest experience are a thing of the past, thanks to the implementation of savvy, cloud-based technology.

Many hotel technology platforms today are not designed to replace or overtake existing hotel staff, but rather, make their job much easier. Partnering with the right solutions providers, hotels can ensure heightened guest and staff satisfaction while providing a higher tier of hands-on service.

Finding the Right Technology Partnership

An article recently published in Fortune spoke to the disastrous roll-out of a new app at Marriott hotels, across five cities, just a few years ago. Although the app promised to save housekeepers time by telling them which rooms to clean, they ended up yo-yo-ing between rooms on different floors, ignoring messy rooms just down the hall. The consensus from the hotel staff was that the app made them less efficient, rather than fulfilling its promise to streamline the housekeeping department. As the union became aware of the problems the app was causing, Marriott’s hotel workers went on strike. Following negotiations in December of that year, the hotel workers advocated for a new contract that requires management to tell them 165 days in advance about new technology so they can raise any concerns.

Unfortunately, sub-par implementation processes are commonly associated with new systems, some of which may never deliver on their promise to ease staff pain-points. However, the issue isn’t specific to the technology, rather by the nature of the technology partnership.

When vetting prospective new technology, hoteliers and unions should be considering a partnership, rather than a ‘purchase.’ Overhauling existing operational structure with new devices, applications and procedures, after all, is no small task — especially in the case of large-scale properties. Beyond the technology itself, hoteliers are implored to do their research. Does the platform have a good reputation? Does it boast a portfolio of successful installs and strong client relationships? Does the vendor offer hands-on training and a user-friendly interface? How do they compare to the competition? Can this partnership boost efficiency, enhance guest service, and increase guest loyalty, all while empowering your staff? Are they the top choice in the US and other global markets?

Built with hotel staff in mind, Knowcross offers hotels a suite of software applications that make the most out of your teams, manage labor costs better, and correct inefficiencies by presenting you with data that helps you make better decisions. These applications include service, housekeeping, glitch, inspection, maintenance, and tenant, ensuring no aspect of the hospitality experience is left behind. The implementation of our technology is user-friendly and seamless and has been repeatedly tried, tested, and embraced by hospitality workers around the globe.

In our industry, the attention paid to the vetting and selection process of new technology is, in many ways, of equal importance to the technology itself. For union properties, the rewards of investing in new systems far outweigh the risks, and unions must embrace this evolution to progress into the future. Technology can provide hotel staff with amazing tools and opportunities, and it is up to union leaders to harness these assets to advance union causes and workers’ rights.

About the Author

Karen O’Neill is a thought leader and hospitality industry veteran with over twenty years of experience working with top tier hospitality and restaurant clients. She spent fifteen years with MICROS Systems where she held various positions in project management, major account management and sales and strategies. In her last role as Vice President; Hotel Sales and Strategies, Karen worked closely with leading global hotel chains, independent properties and management companies on their technology strategy, system selection and deployment. Karen also founded KnockOut Hospitality Consulting, LLC. to assist hotel clients in streamlining and managing key operations. In October 2015, Karen joined StayNTouch, a leading SaaS property management system provider as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In this role, Karen managed the company’s global sales and marketing initiatives, contributing to their aggressive growth.

Most recently, Karen assumed the responsibility of President, Americas for Knowcross with a focus to grow and manage the company’s operations and sales initiatives in the Americas region. With the evolution of technology, Knowcross’ game-changing products for housekeeping automation and workflow management are a must for hotels globally, to meet the growing needs and expectations of customers. The Americas is a key market and an engine of growth for Knowcross.

Karen is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science from the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sports Management. 

About Knowcross

With a global customer base across 40+ countries, Knowcross is a trusted partner to some of the world’s most well-known global brands including Aqua-Aston, Capella Hotels & Resorts, Cheval Residences, Hoxton, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, Kempinski, Minor Hotel Group, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels, Rosewood, Sydell Group, Taj, The Doyle Collection , Sutton Place Hotels and Shangri-La; as well as marquee independents and hotel collections such as Angad Arts Hotel, Dolder Grand Zurich, Grand Pacific Resorts, Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa, Le Bristol Paris, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, Royalton New York, Sixty Soho, The Century House, The Curtain London, The Mark New York, The Ned London and The William Vale Brooklyn.