Unite Here union elects its first female president in 130-year history

FILE PHOTO: UNITE HERE Local 11 union members protest HMS Host at Los Angeles International Airport

By Doyinsola Oladipo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Labor union Unite Here on Thursday elected its first female president in its 130-year history, as 2024 shapes up to be an important year for the union representing 275,000 workers, a majority of whom are women, across the United States and Canada.

Gwen Mills was elected president uncontested to a five-year term by roughly 1,000 union delegates from 45 local chapters of workers across industries including hospitality, gaming and transportation.

Mills told Reuters her number one focus as president was to expand the union, especially in Canada where there are upwards of two million non-union hospitality workers.

"With the growth in the hospitality sector - and it is largely non-union - our goal is to increase the number of people that have a union and can fight for and win the union standard that we're so proud of," she said.

Mills has been serving as the union's interim president and was secretary-treasurer from 2017 to 2024.

She first joined the union 25 years ago in New Haven, Connecticut, as a community organizer.

Local chapters of Unite Here were instrumental in securing record contracts for hospitality workers in 2023, including in Las Vegas where a tight labor market allowed employees to flex more bargaining power.

The union is currently focused on negotiating new contracts for 40,000 hotel workers with contracts set to expire by the end of August across 20 major cities.

Stakes are high for the union this year, given the 2024 presidential election, said Mills. Depending on the outcome of the election, she expressed concerns about the potential impact on the National Labor Relations Board and union-organizing, as well as fears of political attacks on women, immigrants and people of color who make up a majority of the union's members.

(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo in New York; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)