On November 10th, hotel workers in the nation’s capital, members of UNITE HERE Local 25, held a rally and march declaring that workers will not accept recession-era standards. Hundreds of workers rallied at Farragut Square and then marched through downtown Washington, DC.
Over 4,500 hotel workers have been bargaining with Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt and other members of the Hotel Association of Washington since early August, but have yet to reach a new agreement. UNITE HERE Local 25 members continue to work under a temporary extension of the current collective bargaining agreement that expires on March 15, 2011.
Despite returning to their pre-recession profitability and occupancy levels, hotel management is insisting that workers accept a recessionary contract. Management has made several contract proposals that would trigger increases in workload to staff levels already stretched thin. Management’s package offers no additional contributions to workers’ pension, and a first-year wage increase averaging less than 1% over the first year. Marriott has demanded that a significant number of jobs be outsourced to cheaper "temp" workers who may or may not make a living wage.
Good jobs in the hospitality industry have traditionally provided a path for workers, including many immigrants and women of color, to enter the middle class and retire with dignity. Many of the hotels’ proposals will effectively eliminate that path to the middle class.
"D.C. hotel workers provide excellent guest services for some of the richest and most powerful people in the world yet many of my co-workers work two or three jobs to make ends meet. We deserve a contract that gives us a shot at the American dream," says Elia Velasquez, a housekeeper at the Marriott Wardman Park.
Hotel workers have made significant sacrifices to help their employers remain financially viable during the recession. Even though the hotel industry has rebounded, hotels are attempting to increase profits on the backs of their employees by increasing workloads and cutting staff. "Hospitality workers are professionals and we want guests to have the best experience possible but increasing workloads are making it difficult to provide that great experience for our guests," says Robert Décolin, a banquet houseman at the Capital Hilton.
When addressing the crowd rallying at Farragut Square on Wednesday, Laticha Romeo, a housekeeper at the Madison Hotel, noted, "I’m speaking for all the hotels across the map. I feel the same pain as you. We’re all in this together. This is our way to fight back. We have that right, to be treated equal. So we’re gonna stand together, we’re gonna fight back, and we’re going to get what we deserve!"
UNITE HERE Local 25 represents over 10,000 hospitality workers in D.C., Virginia and Prince George’s County. Local 25 is a member of UNITE HERE, the nation’s largest union of hospitality workers.