Thousands of New York City hotel workers have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. Now, their union is being forced to slash the health benefits it provides its members.
The New York Hotel Trades Council is shutting down two of its employee health centers — including the $120 million Brooklyn facility it opened in 2017 — and reducing operations at four others in Manhattan and Queens, according to a notice with the state Department of Labor. The other center it’s closing is in Harlem.
The reductions will impact 642 employees at those locations.
The move is a significant blow to the powerful hotel union, which has long been able to provide good-paying jobs for its roughly 40,000 working-class members through tough negotiations with hotel owners to secure wage increases and valuable health benefits.
Those members, in turn, have worked to form a substantial political organization that has made the Hotel Trades Council one of the most politically powerful unions in the city and the state. That’s helped it push for legislation benefiting its members such as restrictions that effectively curtail the development of non-union hotels.
The HTC operates its health fund along with the Hotel Association of New York trade group representing hotel owners. Those owners make contributions to the health fund, which have been cut back along with the layoffs.
Representatives for the Hotel Trades Council and the Hotel Association of New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Highgate hotels, the largest owner and operator of hotel rooms in the city, declined to comment when asked how layoffs were impacting contributions to the health fund.
The most recently available tax documents for the nonprofit health fund show it had $367.2 million worth of assets in 2018, up from $363.8 million the year before.
In addition to the Brooklyn health center at 265 Ashlund Place that it opened three years ago and is now set to close, it broke ground last year on a new $75 million center in Queens. The Harlem center is located at 133 Morningside Place.
Peter Ward, who had served as the head of the union for more than four decades, abruptly stepped down in August in the midst of what is arguably the most challenging period in the union’s history. HTC general counsel Richard Maroko succeeded him as president.