CIHLER field trip gives students a behind-the-scenes look at arbitration

June 10, 2016

By Sandi Mulconry

On the morning of April 14, while most Hotelies were still asleep, 20 students in HADM 4810/ILRLR 4060 – Labor Relations in the Hospitality Industry traveled to New York City to gain a firsthand look at how arbitration plays out in the hotel industry.

The annual field trip, now in its fourth year, is jointly funded by the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment Relations (CIHLER) and the Cornell ILR School.

"Every year, former students go into labor relations in the hospitality sector as a direct result of having taken this class." - Richard Hurd, associate director of the Cornell Institute for Hospitality Labor and Employment RelationsAn experiential course, HADM 4810/ILRLR 4060 acquaints Cornell School of Hotel Administration (SHA) students with labor relations and ILR students with the hotel industry. “During the first half of the course, students participate in organizing and bargaining simulations,” said Richard Hurd, CIHLER associate director, and associate dean for external relations and professor of labor studies at the ILR School. Hurd co-teaches the course with David Sherwyn, ILR ’86, JD ’89, academic director of CIHLER and the John and Melissa Ceriale Professor of Hospitality Human Resources at SHA.

During the next stage, Hurd said, students consider arbitration. (Arbitrators weigh the evidence and issue a decision when union and management are unable to voluntarily resolve a grievance.) So, at 6 a.m., students boarded a bus in front of Statler Hall and headed for the Office of the Impartial Chairperson, near Times Square.

Students in HADM 4810/ ILRLR 4060 on a class trip to witness an arbitration hearing

Students in HADM 4810/ ILRLR 4060 on a class trip to witness an arbitration hearing

By noon, they had received briefings from Joseph Messineo, grievance officer for the New York City hotel workers’ union; a lawyer from the law firm representing the union; the mediator; and that day’s arbitrator. In addition, they heard from a guest speaker: Mike D’Angelo, vice president of labor relations at Hyatt Hotels. D’Angelo, who, earlier in his career, worked for the law firm representing the union, shared what it was like to work on both sides.

“Ideally, students are briefed on how the process works and what they’re about to see, and then the hearing commences—the two sides present their cases and bring in witnesses, the arbitrator asks questions, and they get to see the whole case presented,” Hurd said.

During last year’s field trip, however, the case settled without going to arbitration—as happens about 30 percent of the time. To decrease the likelihood of that happening again, two cases were scheduled for the class’s April 14 visit.

Defying the odds, both cases again settled.

In the first case, settled shortly after the students arrived, the worker accepted the severance package and neutral letter of reference offered by management.

In the second case, a barback (bartender’s assistant) was terminated following a perceived threat to a supervisor. The union filed a grievance on behalf of the barback, arguing that the termination was without just cause and that there had not been an actual threat. The case settled with the barback being reinstated to his former position—with no loss of seniority—and receiving some back pay. He also was required to attend anger-management classes.

“Before the details were divulged, students were asked what they thought the settlement should be,” Hurd said. “We had one student who nailed it exactly.”

Once the settlement was signed, lawyers for each side presented what would have been their opening arguments to the students. Students also heard from the arbitrator, a witness, and the hotel’s director of human resources.

Students in HADM 4810/ ILRLR 4060 on a class trip to witness an arbitration hearingThe field trip helped students connect what they’d learned in the classroom to real-world practice.

“It gave us the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals in the field, and provided us with valuable insights,” said Alexa Perrucci ’18.

“Although I’ve studied mediation and arbitration extensively, I’d never had the opportunity to see how these things work on the ground level,” said Augustine Rietsema, ILR ’16. “The experience helped humanize the whole process of labor relations beyond textbooks and class simulations.”

Sherwyn, who co-teaches the course, said, “We’re extremely fortunate that the Hotel Trades Council and the Hotel Association of New York City open up their process and give their time to the students. It’s actually incredible—each year, employees allow our class to hear their very personal cases.

“Although I’ve studied mediation and arbitration extensively, I’d never had the opportunity to see how these things work on the ground level.” Augustine Rietsema, ILR ’16“The professionals who run the process—Joe Messineo and Rick Amato—the arbitrators, and the attorneys all take a substantial amount of time out of their day to meet with students, answer their questions, and provide real insight into arbitration and careers in the field. It’s a tribute to Cornell and its ILR and Hotel schools that such busy professionals make it a priority to spend time with our students.”

The exercise didn’t end when the bus arrived back on campus. Students were then given two weeks to evaluate the evidence they’d heard and write a decision as though they were the arbitrator.

For some, the interest lasts a lot longer. “Every year, former students go into labor relations in the hospitality sector as a direct result of having taken this class,” Hurd said.

One Comment

  1. Alex Schrer June 12, 2016 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Congratulations to all of you! No doubt all points are important, but the negotiation in my view is fundamental.

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