For immediate release
July 17, 2012
Hundreds in red celebrate victory for low-wage hotel workers
At the Indianapolis City-County Council meeting this Monday evening, councilors voted 16-12 along party lines to remove the barriers that low-wage hotel workers face in obtaining employment directly for hotels. Hundreds of community supporters sporting red shirts cheered the result. The "Freedom to Work" ordinance, co-sponsored by City Council President Maggie Lewis and Vice President Brian Mahern, Councilor Leroy Robinson and Councilor Zach Adamson would ensure that hotels procuring operating licenses would not be party to any agreement that prevents them from hiring contracted workers. If passed, the ordinance would give approximately 1,000 workers who are currently trapped in poverty-wage hotel jobs a way to improve their lot. The ordinance now awaits signature from Mayor Ballard before it can become law.
"Over the years, Indianapolis has become known for our ability to host large events and conventions," says City Council President Maggie Lewis. "Key to our success has been the efforts of many employees whose day to day efforts are experienced by the visitors who call our city home during their stay. Those individuals are hotel workers who often go beyond the call of duty to ensure that the care and comfort of our guests remains at the forefront. That is why I have sponsored the proposal within the City County Council to ensure that all of our hotel workers receive fair and equal pay and benefits for their efforts. Hotel workers play a key role in our ability to continue to grow our convention business and generate revenue which impacts all Indianapolis residents."
The Freedom to Work ordinance was introduced in May after city leaders responded to calls from the community to address the issue of blacklisting in the hotel industry.
The issue of blacklisting came to light this past January when a number of hotel workers filed an historic lawsuit in federal court against Hyatt, 8 other major hotels, and the contracting agency, Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS) for wage and hour violations. In addition to allegations that HSS and area hotels regularly fail to pay employees for all the hours they work, workers claimed that area hotels have agreements that block them from taking better paying jobs in other hotels to make ends meet. They hold that after working for HSS, they are barred from working directly for area hotels, leaving them with no choice but to continue to work for HSS for as little as $7.25 per hour with no health insurance, sick days, or vacation.
Says former HSS hotel worker, Fernando Gomez: "After I had been working at the Marriott through HSS for months, I asked about an open banquet server position at the Sheraton. The manager said that because of the hotel’s agreement with HSS, I couldn’t work directly for the hotel. But I never saw or signed a contract when I was hired. The Freedom to Work ordinance will make sure that my co-workers and I have the opportunity to work directly for the hotels instead of being trapped in these temporary positions."
This ordinance has garnered much attention and support, not just locally but nationally as well. Just last week, more than thirty national leaders of the Episcopal Church who were in town this week for the Church’s General Convention signed a letter calling on Mayor Ballard to support the Freedom to Work ordinance. A group of letter signers and hotel workers hand delivered the letter to Mayor Ballard’s office last Friday.