For immediate release
May 18, 2009
At fundraiser, Obama backs Indy hotel workers
Congressmen Carson, Donnelly, Ellsworth and Hill echo tribute with letter of support for area hotel workers
Indianapolis, IN – At last night’s Democratic fundraiser held at the Westin in downtown Indianapolis, President Obama made special mention of hotel employees working at the Westin and two other area hotels, who have lead the first effort to unionize Indianapolis hotels in decades. Workers from the UNITE HERE Hotel Workers Rising union organizing committee were invited to the event and honored that evening by President Obama and other party leaders as part of the evening’s program.
“I’ve got to say a few words about where we are tonight,” began President Obama. “It’s a fine establishment, but there are workers here from Indianapolis hotels who are seeking to unionize. I want to recognize them here.” President Obama then asked workers to stand, going on to state, “you have my full support behind you.” He concluded by saying, “In these difficult times our country will be stronger if management and workers come together to resolve disputes and work together to provide quality service. And workers should never be punished for demanding the right to collectively bargain.”
The statement came after months of controversy surrounding a major labor dispute at the Westin. Since 2007, workers from three area hotels, including the Westin, the Hyatt Regency, and the Sheraton at Keystone Crossing, have presented to management a petition signed by a majority of workers at each hotel, requesting a fair process to choose whether to form a union. Management at all three hotels have refused to honor the workers’ request. The Westin, moreover, has subcontracted out dozens of jobs and most controversially, banned an award-winning doorman named William Selm from the hotel, after he spoke out against the Westin’s decision to outsource jobs. Hundreds of workers and community supporters have signed a petition, asking that Mr. Selm’s job be reinstated. Mr. Selm was personally invited to meet the President Obama, following the President’s speech at the Democratic fundraiser.
The dispute at the Westin has also prompted Democratic Congressmen Baron Hill, Andre Carson, Brad Ellsworth, and Joe Donnelly, to send a letter released today to Westin management, stating, “until the current dispute over denial of the requested fair process has been resolved, our campaign committees will show our support for workers by not hosting future events at the Westin Indianapolis.”
Currently, there are no union hotels in Indianapolis, and workers here are among the lowest paid hotel workers of any major city in the United States. Housekeepers in Indianapolis earn around $7.50 an hour, as compared to housekeepers in Chicago working for the same national companies, who earn $14.60 an hour. As the growth of tourism becomes essential to the city’s economic future, community leaders and workers are joining together to ensure that hotel jobs become strong jobs that provide good wages, affordable health benefits, and a humane and safe workload.
UNITE HERE is the hospitality workers union, representing more than 400,000 workers throughout North America. Hotel Workers Rising, a campaign coordinated by UNITE HERE, is a movement of hotel workers, fighting for equality and more family-sustaining jobs in the hospitality industry.