UNITE HERE Local 17: Minneapolis Club proposes linking workers’ wages to growth in $10,000 memberships


For more than 100 years, the private Minneapolis Club in downtown Minneapolis has been the social hub of the city’s business elite. The Labor Review July 28, 1916 described it as “this rich men’s rendezvous.” And for 50 years, the staff at the Minneapolis Club have been represented by UNITE HERE Local 17 (and previous unions may have represented workers there going back another couple of decades).

Now the 60 or so kitchen staff, wait staff, banquet servers, maintenance workers and housekeepers at the Minneapolis Club — who earn an average of $15-$16 per hour — are faced with an onerous contract proposal from a club which charges new members a $10,000 joining fee.

“They want to tie the wages of our members to their ability to increase their membership by 100,” reported Martin Goff, senior vice president for Local 17.

Management is proposing a five-year contract with zero wage increase the first year, one percent the second, third and fourth years, and two percent in the fifth year.

“Any increase above that is tied to membership,” Goff said. “It’s outrageous.”

“At the same time,” Goff said, the Club is building an outside patio for banquets” and undertaking other remodeling. “They want to do it on the backs of the workers.”

Goff also reported that the Club’s proposal takes an unusual step in naming five employees for whom it wants long-term wage freezes, contending they are paid “over scale.” Most of these five workers are very long-term employees, Goff said, who are paid more because “they have extra duties or special talents.”

“The injury done is not easily repaired,” Goff said, when the employer revealed to workers “how little you value their loyalty as a worker.”

The union has countered with a wage proposal for zero increase in the first year, and double the management’s proposal for the remaining four years. That wage increase schedule (0-2-2-2-4) matches the annual increases recently agreed to by all but one of the metro area’s union hotels. “We’re not asking the Club to do anything we’re not asking anyone else to do,” Goff said.

Local 17’s current five-year agreement expired May 31 and Goff said the union has met with the Club’s lawyer for six negotiating sessions. Already, Goff noted, “they’ve paid their lawyer more than we’ve asked for 60 people over four years.”

Local 17 members plan to present a petition July 27 to the Minneapolis Club’s Board of Governors to urge a fair contract.

Goff said the class divide between Club workers and members is stark.

“A Club member pays $10,000 to join — that’s about one-half of the workers’ annual wages,” he observed. “Some of these people make in an hour what our members make in a week… They’re the richest of the rich.”