Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unions - The Death of Service

I have worked in unionized Hotels on multiple occasions, and I have worked in non union Hotels, also on several occasions, and I can honestly say that in both cases I have experienced the “good” and the “bad” regardless of the circumstances surrounding the issue of unionization.

Like anyone that has been in this business for any length of time, I have seen that bad management can flourish in any circumstances, as can the symptoms that spawn bad service, from unhappy and unmotivated employees.

What got me riled up today, was a letter to the editor in the Vancouver Sun newspaper, in response to the recent stories surrounding a pending civil rights case, which has stemmed from the “grooming policy and uniform standards” at the Shark Club, the crux of which is that the largely female staff are required to dress in provocative outfits and in a manner that is alleged to exploit their sexuality.

Now, let me go on record as saying that what is important to me, is service, period – professional, attentive, courteous and knowledgeable service. 

I could care less what they are wearing, except to say that I want the servers’ uniform to be clean and I want the server to appear to be equally clean and well kempt.

Let’s face it, these people are handling our food, and we’d like to think that personal hygiene is high on their list of priorities.

As I said, what got me riled up was a letter to the editor, from a local CAW Union representative, who alleged that none of this would have been a problem if these employees were represented by a union, and, that if we wanted any evidence of this, we need only go to any of the unionized Hotels in our city and witness the finest employees, well groomed and uniformed, providing the highest calibre of service.

Might seem like a fair statement, and I will agree that there are many, many exceptional employees working in our Hotels and doing an exceptional job every day.

Where I take exception is the CAW representative’s notion that the union has anything to do with great service, quite the contrary.

 My best example of this stems from a union contract negotiation which I took part in between my Hotel at the time, and, the CAW.

As a part of our negotiations we were hoping to introduce a new service into our Hotel, something to enhance the guest experience.

In preparing for our negotiations, I had worked with a number of employees to review this proposed new service, in the hope of determining the manner in which this service could be integrated into existing job descriptions, without making any significant changes to the employee’s duties and responsibilities.

I broached the topic with the CAW representative, along with providing all of the supporting data and documentation for introducing this new service, which coincidentally, would also result in a slight increase in employees’ hours – a win-win situation you might think?

His response?

He looked me squarely in the eyes, and without hesitation said; “we don’t care about service.  Service is not our problem, it’s your problem.”

I was flabbergasted.  I honestly couldn’t believe that ANYONE connected with the hospitality business, regardless of their position, could say that they didn’t care about service.

Wasn’t it “service” and more specifically the pursuit of service excellence, what was keeping us all employed?

Regardless, it didn’t matter to the CAW representative.  What mattered to him and his colleagues was a demonstration of power, and the generating of revenue - revenue for the union, through increased membership and increased dues.   That’s what the CAW cares about.

And I have seen the union, time and time again, protect the mediocre, sub-standard performers, who have learned exactly where the line in the sand is drawn, and have perfected the art of dancing back and forth across that line, always making sure that they are not across the line long enough to warrant discipline and always secure in the fact that the union will protect them, regardless of their level of performance.

I know it’s not a popular view but I still believe in “a fair days wages for a fair days work” and maybe even more so in an economic environment such as we find ourselves in today.

No one should be in fear of arbitrarily losing their job, but, nor should anyone be guaranteed a job, regardless of their performance. 

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