UNITE HERE elects first female international president

GWEN MILLS was elected international president of UNITE HERE at the union’s Constitutional Convention last month, making her the first woman to hold the position in the organization’s 130-year history.

Gwen Mills has been elected international president of UNITE HERE, making her the first woman to hold the position in the organization’s 130-year history.

Mills’ election marks a powerful milestone for UNITE HERE, which has a membership of nearly 275,000 hospitality workers across the United States and Canada, a majority of whom are women. She was elected last month during the UNITE HERE 2024 Constitutional Convention in New York.

Also elected were, General Vice President Wendi Walsh and Secretary-Treasurer  Nia Winston.

Kim Bartholomew, president of UNITE HERE Local 74, said she’s excited to see what the female leadership team can accomplish.

“Our union is completely women run, and I’m looking forward to all the great things the women can do,” Bartholomew said. “I’m looking forward to the future.”

Mills has been serving as UNITE HERE’s interim president and was the secretary-treasurer from 2017 to 2024, when she played a critical role in navigating the union through the pandemic and helping it emerge stronger.

“I am deeply honored to lead UNITE HERE into a new era,” said Mills. “Our union has shown incredible resilience and strength through the pandemic and has set new standards for jobs in our industries, proving that hospitality jobs can be good union jobs. We don’t shy away from taking on powerful corporate interests, and we don’t back down from a fight. Now is the time to do even more to support workers who want a union.”

Building on UNITE HERE’s momentum as the fastest growing private-sector union in the AFL-CIO, Mills committed to doubling the annual investment in union growth across hotels, casinos, institutional food service and emerging hospitality industries. With more workers than ever looking to unionize, UNITE HERE aims to seize the moment to organize and empower the nearly 14 million non-union workers in the service industry to unionize, and provide a platform for women and people of color to lead.

Mills also outlined key campaigns for this year, including a historic showdown in the hotel industry, where room rates are the highest in history, but workers are struggling to support their families and the industry cuts jobs and guest services. About 40,000 hotel workers in 22 markets are ready to take on major brands like Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt to demand respect for their work through increased wages and a reversal of staffing cuts.

Additionally, Mills announced plans to ramp up the union’s political organizing program in key battleground states like Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and launch new programs in Ohio and Michigan. UNITE HERE runs the largest Labor-led canvassing program in the U.S., which is unique in that its canvassers are union members: housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, and concessions workers who have fought and won in their workplaces and communities. They take the skills they learned organizing their coworkers to turn out voters to elect officials who will fight for workers and support their ability to organize, and support legislation that improves jobs in the hospitality industry.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said she was thrilled to celebrate Mills’ election to her first full term as president of UNITE HERE. She called Mills a visionary leader who has helped guide her union through some of the hospitality industry’s most challenging and transformational moments.

“Under her leadership, UNITE HERE is delivering historic new contracts for workers, expanding into new workplaces and regions and bringing in more women and people of color — not only to be a part of the movement, but to lead it,” said Shuler, who is the first woman to be elected president of the AFL-CIO. “We look forward to continuing our fight together to improve the lives of hospitality workers — and all workers — across this country.”

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