Hotel workers hoping for pandemic job protections

MARYANN SILVA HAS worked for 19 years as a full-time banquet server at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Boston Common. The 63-year-old Lynn resident sets up and serves food to guests for weddings, meetings, birthday parties, and corporate events. 

She was “temporarily” laid off in March when COVID-19 hit and the hotel closed. But the property still hasn’t reopened. Silva remains on unemployment benefits and has no idea if she will get her job back. Silva is divorced with no children and takes care of her 97-year-old mother. She had been earning $60,000 a year. Now, she has turned in her leased car for a less expensive one and worries about losing her home if she can’t continue to pay her mortgage.  

“It’s so uncertain,” Silva said. “You’re working, at least you know you’re out there making a living for yourself and your family.” 

An amendment that will be considered as part of the House budget debate this week could give laid-off workers like Silva a small measure of hope. It would require hotel workers laid off due to the pandemic the right to be rehired into their old jobs if those jobs are brought back. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, and pushed for by the union UNITE Here Local 26, which represents Boston area hotel workers.  

For Silva, the knowledge that her job is protected “would take a lot of stress off of my shoulders, she said.  

UNITE HERE Local 26 president Carlos Aramayo said, “What people are looking for is some peace of mind that if and when the job is recreated, they will have the first chance to take that job.”  

The head of the Massachusetts Lodging Association did not return a call for comment. The national American Hotel and Lodging Association has generally opposed these types of policies, arguing that they place an additional burden on employers struggling to recover from the pandemic. 

The amendment would not mandate anything, but would let individual municipalities adopt a “right to recall” policy. Under that policy, a hotel that lays off a worker due to the pandemic and then reinstates that job any time during a two-year period would have to offer the laid off worker their old job back. There would be civil fines for noncompliance. 

Decker said hospitality workers have been hit hard by COVID-19 “and if we’re going to really be able to have a strong recovery in our economy we have to make sure the workers who helped build this economy and are most experienced are given the shortest path back to their jobs.” 

Similar policies have been adopted on a municipal level in several California cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Oakland, although a statewide right to recall bill was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom, a Democrat, said it would create an onerous burden on employers. A right to recall policy was also adopted earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Aramayo said the policy is necessary because of how hard the pandemic hit workers in the hospitality sector.  

According to state labor statistics, there were more than 380,000 Massachusetts leisure and hospitality jobs in January. That dropped to below 140,000 in April and has bounced back only partially, to 242,000 jobs by September. 

“Thousands of hospitality workers in the hotel industry were put out of work and continue to be out of work because the industry relies heavily on not just tourism, but also large-scale events that are not scheduled to happen anytime soon,” Aramayo said. 

Aramayo said many industry workers are older, female, immigrant and have little formal education. “These are not people who are going to be easily retrained for other jobs that would be equivalent in terms of income and standard of living,” he said. He worries that hotels will try to cut costs by replacing more experienced workers who have higher salaries with younger, cheaper workers. 

Aramayo said of 4,500 Boston hotel industry workers his union represents, only 400 to 500 are back at work. UNITE HERE workers do have a contract that requires managers to recall workers for up to a year after a temporary layoff. The amendment would extend that to two years and would also cover non-union workers. 

Laid-off Marriott Copley workers protest outside hotel

Workers who recently lost their jobs at the Boston Marriott Copley Place demonstrated in front of the hotel Friday, demanding that management provide full severance pay and reinstate them when business returns. The hotel, the second largest in Boston, reopened in August and laid off about half its staff — 230 workers and 30 managers — in September, according to Unite Here Local 26, the hospitality workers union that has been helping the non-union workers. Workers’ severance pay was capped at 10 weeks, instead of the previous 26, and they were told they could reapply for their jobs as new employees when demand rises.

Marriott Copley general manager Alan Smith, who previously noted that the hotel has experienced “unprecedented business impact,” told the Globe: “We respect the right to demonstrate.”

Many hotels have reopened around Boston, but business is bleak. Occupancy rates are hovering around 25 percent on average, and an estimated 8,000 hotel workers are still unemployed.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

UNITE HERE Local 26 Endorses Ed Markey for US Senate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 14, 2019
Twitter: @unitehere26

 

Senator Ed Markey to Join 100 Airline Catering Workers Serving American Airlines to Protest at Logan Airport

 UNITE HERE Local 26 to endorse Senator Ed Markey at national day of action calling on American Airlines to take action to end poverty and unaffordable health care

 

American Airlines reported $1.7 billion in net income in 2019. Yet, subcontracted airline catering workers who provide food and beverages served aboard American’s flights at Boston’s Logan Airport and around the country remain stuck in poverty.

Senator Ed Markey will join UNITE HERE Local 26 airline catering workers. “I am incredibly grateful to have the endorsement of UNITE HERE Local 26 workers,” Senator Ed Markey said. “As big corporations have increasingly declared war on our unions, choosing shareholder interests over employee rights, Local 26 has never been afraid to stand up and fight back for the working families across the Commonwealth. I was proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with workers on the picket line at the Battery Wharf Hotel this fall, and it is a privilege to stand with Local 26 once again at Logan Airport this week. Together, we will continue to demand fair wages, affordable healthcare, and dignified work for every person.”

Contracted catering workers at Boston’s Logan Airport prepare American’s first-class meals and ensure its flights are properly stocked for on-time departures, but only 38% of workers at LSG Sky Chefs at BOS had employer-provided healthcare in 2018, and only 10% covered any dependents. 46% of workers there make below $15 / hour.

“We are proud to endorse Senator Ed Markey in his re-election campaign as one of our two Senators from Massachusetts,” said UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang. “He has been a champion of working people in the streets and in our nation’s capital. Senator Markey stands with us in our campaign for a green, livable planet where one job is enough to take care of our families. We stand with him as our Senator!”

In a 2019 survey by UNITE HERE of 2,240 out of 15,000 catering workers at the two largest contractors nationally, 56% of respondents reported having gone to work sick, 66% because they could not afford to miss time.

American Airlines recently reached a $4.2 billion agreement with its well-deserving ground and maintenance workers in TWU-IAM. American should address the concerns of all workers who make its operations possible—including the catering workers who continue to be left behind.

 

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UNITE HERE Local 26 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents more than 12,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Boston and Rhode Island.  Learn more at www.local26.org

 

Union study finds Black Starbucks baristas in airports paid less than whites

Black baristas at airport Starbucks make a median wage of $11.15 an hour, $1.85 less than white baristas, according to a report released Tuesday by the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here.

The union examined 2019 employment data of more than 2,000 unionized workers — 85 percent of whom were people of color, and 35 percent Black women — at 142 stores operated by HMSHost in 27 airports around the country, including in Boston.

In March of 2018, Starbucks announced that it had reached 100 percent pay equity for men, women, and people of color doing similar jobs at its US stores. In May of that year, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 US stores for a day for racial bias training following an incident in which two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

But according to Unite Here, the airport Starbucks remained open. Nearly a third of workers responding to a Unite Here survey said they had struggled to pay their rent in the past year.

In addition, LGBTQ workers reported being subjected to offensive comments, and one in four immigrants were told to stop speaking their preferred languages at work.

On Thursday, workers plan to leaflet 700 Starbucks stores in 40 cities, including 20 in the Boston area, to raise awareness of the report’s findings. Starbucks referred a request for comment to HMSHost, which could not be reached immediately.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

Battery Wharf Hotel Workers Win Strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 22, 2019

Contact: Nicki Morris, 857-498-2495, nmorris@local26.org

Twitter: @unitehere26

Battery Wharf Hotel Workers Vote on Tentative Agreement to End Strike

After 79 days on strike, Battery Wharf Hotel workers win monumental agreement

What: Battery Wharf Hotel workers to vote on tentative agreement and discuss their 79 days on strike at the Battery Wharf Hotel.

When: Friday, November 22, 2019 at 1:30pm

Where: Battery Wharf Strike Headquarters, 220 Commercial St, Boston, MA 02109

Who: UNITE HERE Local 26 striking hotel workers at the Battery Wharf Hotel, including hotel housekeepers, front desk reception, bellmen, cooks, dishwashers, and more

Note: Battery Wharf Hotel workers involved in the contract fight and UNITE HERE Local 26 Financial Secretary Carlos Aramayo will be available for interview in person at the event as well as by phone.

 

Why: After over eleven weeks on strike, UNITE HERE Local 26 and The Battery Wharf Hotel, part-owned and operated by Westmont Hospitality Group, have reached a tentative agreement. Since the UNITE HERE Marriott Strike of 2018, the Battery Wharf Hotel was the last hotel to agree to a contract that ensure sexual harassment protections, guarantee affordable healthcare, and provide enough income for hotel workers to support their families.

 

On October 3, 2018, Local 26 workers walked out at seven Marriott-operated hotels, including the Aloft Boston Seaport District, the Element Boston Seaport District, the Ritz-Carlton Boston, the Sheraton Boston, the W Hotel Boston, the Westin Boston Waterfront, and the Westin Copley Place. 7,700 Marriott workers in total went on strike from coast to coast. The Marriott Strike resulted in historic gains in the hotel industry.

 

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UNITE HERE Local 26 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents more than 12,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Boston and Rhode Island.  Learn more at www.local26.org

 

UNITE HERE represents over 300,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, and airport industries across the US and Canada. Learn more at www.unitehere.org.