December 13, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco

A new iPhone app is making it easy for travelers to avoid hotels that are not treating their workers fairly.

UNITE HERE – the union that represents over a quarter-of-a-million hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry and airport industries in the U.S. and Canada – rolled out its mobile Hotels Guide less than a month ago. And since then users have been giving it stellar reviews.

"I think it's clear that people are getting information in very new ways – whether through social media or other online sources," UNITE HERE spokesperson Brenda Cater told LaborPress. "So, the labor movement, like any other institution, needs to recognize that and adapt to that new reality. And I think unions are doing that to a large extent."

According to Carter, internet-based tools like the new mobile Hotels Guide – which quickly identifies hotels located across North America where the labor group is active, are well-suited in helping to raise awareness about what the union is doing, the value of union membership, and the value of union workers throughout the industry.

The app's interactive map is simple to manipulate and uses green and yellow push pins that pop up to clearly indicate hotels where UNITE HERE is active, as well as those that are under boycott or under threat of a boycott due to bad labor practices.

"We know that a lot of folks use our Union Hotels Guide on a regular basis for their travel plans, so our primary goal was to make that more accessible and make it easier for people who are on the road traveling to get that information," Carter said.

And the new app has other benefits as well. In addition to potentially reaching younger travelers who are already savvy about using Internet tools, UNITE HERE's new iPhone app is helping to inspire enthusiasm among hotel workers themselves.

"I've heard stories of our members looking at it in cities where we have lower union density and being really excited about what it would mean if they could achieve the kind of union density that New York City, for example, has," said Carter.

As of this writing, UNITE HERE's Union Hotels Guide application has 31, mostly four-star reviews in the Apple Apps Store. One reviewer said, "Makes finding union hotels easy. Knowing my politics, my family often asks, "Is this hotel okay to stay in?" Now there is an easy resource to point them to. Great way to make sure you are patronizing a hotel that treats its workers with respect."

Another had this to say, "I've definitely been around hotels where there have been labor problems, and trust me, you would want to spend your money someplace else. This app can help ensure a good night's sleep."

"We've also gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who have used our online Hotels Guide in the past, and are now happy to have a mobile version," Carter said. "The app shows all UNITE HERE hotels in the United States and Canada. It also shows hotels that are under boycott. We don't want travelers to be unwittingly caught up in a labor dispute."

Overall, Carter characterizes UNITE HERE's greater social media program as "pretty active."

"Our union is active across all the main social media platforms," Carter said. "And last summer, we ran a social media campaign against Hyatt hotels that was very successful. There's certainly more we can be doing because there are boundless opportunities. Internet tools and social media are not substitutes for organizing and doing the other work that we do in the union every day – but they certainly help."

UNITE HERE worked on the mobile version of its Union Hotels Guide for a few months before debuting it. It presently is specifically tailored to the iPhone, but newer versions could soon make it work well on the iPad as well.


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