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Cornell Panel Debates Whether Labor Law Reform Is Dead or Alive

Reform May Occur Regardless of Whether Congress Acts

Cornell Center For Hospitality Research The prospects for changes in labor law remain up in the air, but employers have a new headache even if Congress takes no reform action. Meeting at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, participants in the 2009 Labor and Employment Law Roundtable considered the idea that reform may occur without Congress. The roundtable, held in May 2009, was organized by Associate Professor David Sherwyn, academic director of the Center for Hospitality Research, which produces the roundtable series. The center invites participation from its partners and from academic experts in labor law.

With the election of the new Congress, many observers expected passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which has a key provision allowing certification of labor unions based on card checks, rather than a secret ballot. Many of the roundtable participants doubted the law would pass, but Professor Samuel Estreicher, of New York University, contended that reform could occur through the actions of the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees labor and management interactions.

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In addition, the panel discussed Congress's response to the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in the case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Inc. This 2007 decision determined that long-time Goodyear employee Lilly Ledbetter, who argued she had been discriminated against with respect to her pay many years before, had waited too long to file a claim of discrimination. This year, however, Congress overturned the Court and held that in such situations each paycheck constitutes a new discriminatory act. Accordingly, a female employee who received a 3% raise in 1990 while her male counterpart received a 5% raise can sue within 300 days of her last paycheck she received from the company. While these cases will be hard to prove, t he roundtable panelists believe that it will result in record-keeping nightmares.

Meeting jointly with the roundtable on management contracts, members of the Labor and Employment Law Roundtable examined the effects of employment law on hotel management contracts. One particularly contentious issue is whether the management company or the hotel owner should take control of labor negotiations. Sherwyn pointed out: "In 2006, the unions used a brilliant strategy; they split ownership and management and got what they wanted from the negotiations." Participants agreed that the management company may or may not have different priorities than the union. If the sides do differ the union can use this to its advantage.

About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's 77 corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. The center also publishes the award-winning hospitality journal, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit www.chr.cornell.edu.

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