Posted: March 30th, 2022

American unionism and U.S. immigration policy

The Growing Concept of Diversity in NYC Unions

The hospitality industry is the heart of New York City as it employs a significant fraction of the city’s workforceHistorical findings reveal that there is a lack of diversity and inclusion in American unions, which in turn causes failure and closure—in this context, diversity and inclusion in the sense of belongingness that is created in unions’ workforce and memberships, surpassing social barriers such as racism and gender seclusion. Being a city that attracts investors and workers both internationally and locally, having a diverse workforce is vital. A diverse workforce as seen from a point of leadership is essential, as it increases membership. However, membership decline in the past few years has raised concerns due to the lack of diversity and inclusion. According to one report, the percentage of employees represented by unions in the United States decreased to 34.6% in 2016 from 36.2% in the previous year (Milkman, 2014). Since unions’ strength is determined by the members they represent, a decline in membership affects effectiveness and efficiency. In light of this, associations such as the New York’s Hotel Trades Council work to ensure diversity in the hospitality industry. The union’s strength can be seen through the over 40,000 members represented by the union across Manhattan. In this regard, Unions in NYC have made significant efforts to ensure diversity, as demonstrated through their leadership and memberships.

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In the last couple of years, the nation has witnessed the collapse of several unions. According to Behrens et al. (2004), the lack of diversity and inclusion in most unions has been the main reason for unions crumbling. Unions replicate the overall consciousness of members and their leadership. As a result, organized unions in New York City have made it their business to embrace diversity. Most unions embrace diversity and inclusion as a principal issue, to increase membership. Since their inception, unions have sought to ensure equality among their members, a concept that was initially absent. According to Manoharan and Singal (2017), unionized workers made it their business to resist working with those who were different from them. Historical findings reveal that the labor history was majorly characterized by mob violence and riots, which drove away employees from specific jobs. The hostility was further intensified by prejudice where employers excluded certain groups of people, effectuating job scarcity. The claims have been refuted by claims by individuals that believe that contemporary unions are designed to ensure inclusivity (Day, 2021). While the history of unions is marred with cases of extreme prejudice, current organizations understand the dangers of prejudice and design their process to ensure inclusion and equality. However, many still believe that prejudice and discrimination are still issues within unions. 

            Even in the 20th century, unions that considered themselves diverse in the United States tolerated segregation based on ethnicity, gender, and race; accelerating their membership gain and growth. Skeptics may argue that unionization may be a tool to reinforce bias in New York’s hospitality industry. However, these scholars fail to recognize that unions have played a vital role in breaking barriers, which has reconciled diversified people. Research indicates that workers’ unionization in New York City provides a critical framework whereby diverse communities and races negotiate and articulate social change (Klauder, 2012). However, these arguments are refuted by scholars that maintain that the issue of inequality is still very rampant within unions. In an article, Race Discrimination in Trade Unions, the author disagrees with Klauder’s notion and maintains that American unions have continually excluded minorities and undermine the rights and privileges of people from minority groups. The author goes on to argue that this is the reason that non-discrimination unions working closely with Congress tend to soft-pedal the race issue with organization workers in competition with entities that are openly discriminative (Northrup, 2016). Nevertheless, there is evidence that contemporary unions are fighting to reduce the overall rate of prejudice within society.

Collective bargaining as offered by unions in clarifying seniority, wages, and due process among all members; promotes diversity and equality. Unions ensure that New York City workers have a voice in policy debates, which gives them a sense of belonging. The workers’ voice in policy debates strengthens their bargaining power regarding salary increment issues and working conditions improvements. As noted by union activists, education is a crucial aspect of ensuring diversity among union members. It is a tool for creating awareness regarding leadership, which fosters a diverse workforce culture. Unions have advocated for a broad range of training and education programs in all sectors, to prepare workers to work in the hotel industry while considering diversity and inclusion. Some of these programs include those offered by hotel management hotels such as NYU and Cornel (Manoharan & Singal, 2017). Several New York unions, such as UNITE HERE, have developed a curriculum that focuses on creating diversity awareness. Such efforts are not only meant to encourage diversity but also illuminate members on matters regarding gender equality. 

Immigration in the United States has caused the increased diversity among Unions in New York City. The United States labor records show more minority employees and immigrant laborers entering the workforce, an aspect cultivated by diversity in unions (William, 2013). At the beginning of the new millennium, it was anticipated that the representation of minority groups in the workforce would rise by approximately 30% (LaVan & Katz, 2013). The Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Hispanic and Asian workforce in the United States has risen by 40%. By 2030, it is expected that the women’s workforce in the hospitality industry will be over 50% (LaVan& Katz, 2013). In light of these statistics, unions in America have been leaning towards diversity to increase memberships. Many unions have been pushing the agenda for protecting their members against discrimination and other challenges associated with diversity; to attain a homogeneous workforce. A recent study by the New York City Labour Market Information service notes that the hospitality industry, especially in hotels and accommodation, is significantly increasing. By 2011, the industry had witnessed a significant growth of 22% (LaVan &Katz, 2013). The New York’s Hotel Trades Council has the most significant number of memberships, ascribed to the increased unionization in the sector (Richman, 2012). The hospitality industry, especially hotels and accommodation, is heavily concentrated in Manhattan. However, the growth effect has proliferated to other areas like Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens. 

The growth of New York’s hospitality and retail industry workforce has been polarizing the past recent years; triggering intensified concerns. Manoharan and Singal (2017) point out that income inequality has become a critical issue in the city, destabilizing the middle class. Evidence shows that middle-class unionized employees are at a decline, as they have lost their ground to the top earners despite being privileged compared to other low-wage employees. Nonetheless, the city’s workforce has continued to diversify, mustering transformation. However, studies show that the needs of minorities have been considered and incorporated within the policies of most unions. Studies show that if American organized American labor imposes restrictions on immigrants, it risks alienating itself from this community, thus making it difficult to organize any workforce with these employees (Briggs, 2018). It should be noted that immigrants play an integral role in the American job market and their involvement in unions is paramount. 

The unions in New York City have collectively represented the needs of the diverse workforce, which contributes to increased membership. According to Milkman (2012), the recent increase of immigrants to New York’s workforce has triggered the transformation. A significant number of low-skilled immigrants have infiltrated the hospitality industry, specifically in restaurants and taxi drivers; a growing number of immigrant employees joining unions. Milkman (2014) further notes that immigrants in New York City are over-represented in occupational groups that are not covered by labor laws such as NLRA and FLSA. Some argue that in as much as a diverse workforce has been embraced in New York City unions, most immigrant workers are still subjected to minimum wages below the minimum wage. Hence, skeptics question the essence of diversity if their representative unions cannot correctly represent foreign-born workers. As sound as the argument is, matters regarding minimum payments are not solely determined by unions; although this does not mean that unions have limited powers when negotiating their members’ welfare. If anything, unions organize strikes and negotiate better pay with employers and representative organizations. Therefore, determining wages of employees is primarily determined by factors other than unions. In some instances, unions have advised their members to cease working for certain employers, giving them the power to bargain for their members’ welfare. 

            By the 1990s, local unions in New York City dedicated their efforts towards immigrant employees’ welfare; hankering for diversity and inclusion. It is during this period that UNITE was formed, to represent a majority of immigrants such as Mexicans and other minority groups, including African Americans. Even though the emerging unions were not part of FLSA and NLRA, they attracted support from already established unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which has, until today, played a significant role in ensuring diversity and inclusion. Most importantly, the rights of minority workers in the hospitality and service industry are protected. 

Over the years, unions have played a critical role in ensuring that employees received the required levels of remuneration and pay packages. The average pay of New York’s employees in the hospitality industry is $53,045, with Manhattan reporting the highest number of employees earning above the average pay; compelled by the high level of unionization (Klauder, 2012). As a result, the industries have attracted more people since employees are adequately represented and with competitive remunerations consequently accelerating the industry growth. Some studies, however, accredit the growth of the industry to the general perception that New York is a safe place to visit, has lucrative real estate development, and holds favorable zoning regulations. However, with COVID-19, the industry has been significantly affected. Overall, the industry’s workforce is diverse mainly, with over 50% of workers being foreign. Furthermore, the proportion of blacks, whites, Asian and Hispanic workers ranges between 21% and 27% (Klauder, 2012). Nevertheless, these factors should not create room for inequality, as far as pay packages are concerned. The existence of unions is the key to equal pay among employees from all socio-economic backgrounds (Gilley, 2018). Even with the challenges facing companies following the corona pandemic, employees still need to receive the pay package that aligns with their input in the workplace. 

The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employee (HERE) merged with UNITE to become the major union in New York representing workers within the hospitality industry, especially cafeterias, restaurants, and bars; strengthening their bargaining power. When the organization was created, it primarily targeted to increase its membership; engendering to the most diverse culture in the industry.  UNITE HERE is guided by a strict constitution that recognizes the need to protect the indigenous people and employees from discrimination regardless of their racial affiliations. Essentially, protecting the minority groups is one way of ensuring a diverse workforce, whereby even the minority has the right to the proper treatment and representation by unions.

Unions and other New York City campaigns have played a fundamental role in fighting for workers’ rights without factoring in racial and gender affiliations; creating a safe work environment. Perhaps the Dignity at Darden, which combined efforts with the Restaurant Opportunities Center in New York, is among those that their efforts have been publicly witnessed. The campaign targeted Darden, a leading restaurant chain in the United States, where employees reportedly complained about poor working conditions, wage theft, and discrimination. Labor consultants from the unions have been at the forefront, urging employers to embrace diversity and comply with labor laws; increasing union’s influence on policy by participating in social pacts. In New York, unions have begun playing an essential role in formulating and implementing welfare and wage-related policies within their memberships’ jurisdiction. As a result, they have been able to achieve economic development and diversity across New York. Initially, it was difficult to establish economic development in the hospitality sector on low wages. However, the past recent years, before COVID-19, have seen unions develop the economy of New York significantly. 

New York’s Local 6 is an ideal case of a union that embraces diversity and bargaining for the rights of its members; negotiating the protection and benefits amid the coronavirus global pandemic. Notably, the union which is part of New York’s Hotel Trades Council, bargains for long-term contracts, thus protecting members even during an economic breakdown. For instance, the existing contract will be running until 2026, which is likely to outlive the pandemic. Even though the union is relatively small, its efforts in providing an outstanding health plan and other benefits are notably outstanding. While members from other unions have lost their jobs and health coverage, the union’s power has ensured a continued medical coverage; an advantage that non-union workers do not receive. Even though non-union members believe that they have rights, joining unions amplifies their rights and protects them from scrupulous employers. While economic challenges have contributed to most unions’ failure, it is a different case with Local 6 as it has been able to protect its diverse members.

The American government is awash with unions that are designed to protect the interests of the American workforce. Local 6’s members are primarily immigrants organized in 67 diverse languages; enhancing their impressive bargaining power with the local government (Richman, 2012). Furthermore, the union has been at the forefront to advocate for diversity and inclusion in unions and organizations in New York City. Part of the union’s strength is also since it is an affiliate of UNITE HERE. Furthermore, with a strong democratic process it utilizes a bureaucratic process that enables the management and the labor force to resolve disputes amicably; contributing to its significant growth over the years. Of course, this aspect is not always easy. Critics disagree with the existence of a smooth bureaucratic process to argue that sometimes, management can perceive unions as a burden to the management especially when both parties fail to agree on the same aspect (Mash & Kremer, 2016). Nevertheless, the implementation of an effective conflict resolution strategy can help to curb these issues. 

The 21st century has witnessed unions in the hospitality industry recognize the essence of equity within their member organizations; steamrolling diversity and inclusion as the primary goal of unions. Sources indicate that an inclusive and diverse labor movement is vital for connecting with people and representing the workforce (Milkman, 2012). Unions such as AFL-CIO have passed resolutions to drive a diversity initiative within the union. Most importantly, unions in New York have developed a policy of auditing diversity status within their ranks; ensuring diversity within member organizations. Research indicates that locals are more likely to join unions representing their race within their leadership, which accords them confidence (Milkman, 2012). For instance, New York’s Hotel Trades Council paves the way of creating diverse workplaces by shattering the existing stereotypes regarding male dominance at the workplace; boasts of a relatively massive number of memberships in New York. As depicted through its leadership, the union features leaders from across New York, regardless of race or gender. Even notably, women have taken part in key leadership roles within the union. However, this fact should not erode the argument that prejudice is still an issue within the hospitality industry and the nation at large. Investigations show that women and members of the LGBTQ community still struggle with discrimination in the workplace (Mellem, 2020). Nevertheless, unions have been used to combat this issue and hopefully, shortly, the hospitality industry and other fields will offer all genders equal opportunities to pursue their careers. 

Diversity in unions has been depicted through their leadership; percolating down to the members. For instance, UNITE HERE has ensured that its leadership is diverse, representing gender equality and the different communities in the United States. Notably, the union conducts elections whereby members vote in leaders in their respective positions. Over the decades, this has been an essential tactic in meeting a diverse leadership that includes the minority groups and women at large. With the increased feminization of the hospitality industry, involving women in unions has been an essential factor contributing to unions’ membership. Before HERE merged with UNITE, it recognized the need for women in leadership positions. Women were represented both at the local and international levels. Today, UNITE HERE’s leadership comprises women and men, including whites and the minority groups. The union has 75 board members, with the president, Nuredin Bulle, being black. The vice president and the treasurer are all women, depicting a fair representation of diverse leadership.

There have been critics that the union mainly considers blacks; it is crucial to understand that the minority groups in the United States have been affected mainly by discrimination at the workplace. It only makes sense that the union majorly represents blacks and other minority groups. Furthermore, McGeehan (2013) acknowledges that most unionized workers in New York are minorities. Even during the COVID-19 global pandemic, the union has made significant efforts to protect its workers from the adverse economic impacts associated with the global pandemic. Since both men and women represent the unions well, McGeehan (2013) points out that women comprise most of the hospitality industry members in New York. The industry has been growing in numbers by the women who dominate it in New York and major cities in the United States. Milkman (2014) notes that white men are less than a quarter of New York union members. This is a significant effort in disapproving the traditional belief of men dominating important sections of the global economy.

As discussed, the unions in New York City have made it their business to ensure diversity and inclusion in their leadership and membership; sighted in their growth and popularity. Essentially this strategy has been used to attract minority groups and women regardless of their ethnic backgrounds; increasing union membership. Unions such as UNITE HERE and their affiliates have demonstrated diversity and inclusion through their democratic leadership process whereby both men and women hold leadership positions in the unions. As research has established, members are more likely to be attracted to unions once they establish that one of their own is in the leadership position. Unions play a vital role in protecting workers’ rights in terms of wages and a conducive working environment. There has been a growing concern over the diversity of unions when most of them represent minority groups. Critics claim that even with the strides undertaken to ensure diversity, the nation still struggles with inequality and prejudice, which also affects the efforts of unions. Notably, minority groups, such as African Americans, are most discriminated against at the workplace. Conclusively, since individuals from different communities characterize New York, diversity and inclusion must remain a key concern in the hospitality industry. Increasing membership in the unions will also increase productivity in the hospitality industry. 




Briggs, V. (2018, August 9). American unionism and U.S. immigration policy.

Day, M. (2021). Unions are essential for eliminating racism. Jacobin.

Gilley, D. (2018, February 2). Guest opinion: Unions are key to equal pay. The Labor Tribune.

            Klauder, R. (2012) New York City’s Traveler Accommodation Industry A Guide For       Education And Workforce Development Professional,             Images/Uploads%20for%20LMIS/Reports%20and%20Briefs/Traveler%20Accommo            dation/NYCLMIS-Accommodation-Industry-executive-summary.pdf

            LaVan, H., & Katz, M. (2013). The current state of management/union relations in the      hospitality sector. Hospitality Review30(2), 4.

            Manoharan, A., & Singal, M. (2017). A systematic literature review of research on diversity          and diversity management in the hospitality literature. International Journal of     Hospitality Management, 66, 77-91. 

Mash, R., & Kremer, M. G. (2016). Trade Unions: Promoting or Withholding Solutions in Management–Union Conflicts? Analysis of Employee and Manager Perceptions. Journal of Sociology and Social Work4(1), 147.

            McGeehan P.  (2013). New York City’s Unionized Workers Are Mostly Minorities, a Study         Shows. New York Times,         citys-unionized-workers-are-mostly-minorities-a-study-shows.html

Mellem, L. (2020, November 24). Battling gender inequality in the workplace: Tips from a female leader. The Official Blog of CSU Global.

            Milkman, R. (2014). Introduction: Toward a new labor movement? Organizing New York            City’s precariat. In New Labor in New York (pp. 1-22). Cornell University Press.

Northrup, H. R. (2016, July 19). Race discrimination in trade unions. Commentary Magazine.

            Richman, S. (2012). Ideology Vs. “Rule or Ruin” Politics in the Downfall of the Communists       in the NYC Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, 1934–1952. American       Communist History11(3), 243-264.



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