For immediate release
December 22, 2020
Eleventh hour deal on pandemic relief legislation is a start, but Georgia’s workers need Senators who will fight for them as pandemic rages
ATLANTA—In a dynamic virtual rally on Tuesday, December 22, hospitality workers reiterated their commitment to get out the vote for Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s critical Senate runoff elections. They were joined at the rally by Stacey Abrams, former Georgia State Representative and founder of Fair Fight.
More than 600 UNITE HERE laid-off hospitality workers have been canvassing every day, aiming to knock on over one million doors in Georgia. In conversations with voters they stress the urgency needed to take back the Senate. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitality workers have dealt with job loss, a broken unemployment system, loss of healthcare, and a pandemic that continues to rage out of control. Many are out of money and out of food, with some are at risk of losing their homes.
Congress finally reached an eleventh-hour deal to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and provide a small one-time payment to struggling Americans, but long-lasting relief that includes both economic and health care benefits must be a priority in the months ahead.
“When I was laid off in March, I had no idea how long it would last, and I still haven’t been called back to work,” said Cocoa Swearington, a server at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis hotel and member of UNITE HERE Local 23 who is canvassing in Atlanta, “I had a little saved up, but certainly not enough to endure nine months without work. Without enhanced unemployment benefits, after I pay my mortgage I have just $25 per month to pay for food, gas and bills which includes paying out-of-pocket for health insurance. I’m canvassing to take back the Senate because it’s not right that our only choice for relief during this pandemic is either none at all, or barely enough.”
In spite of the uphill battle housekeepers, cooks, bartenders and servers have faced since March, they’re continuing to fight back through door-to-door canvassing, encouraging Georgians to vote and to vote early. On the ground in Georgia, UNITE HERE is working with key allies, including Stacey Abrams.
“COVID-19 has impacted all of us, but the hospitality industry, the workers at its heart, and their union have been hit particularly hard by the uncertainty of the past year. In spite of this, UNITE HERE members found a way to do what many said could not be done: canvass door-to-door during a pandemic, safely,” said Stacey Abrams, “Their efforts to knock on the doors of millions of voters during the presidential election made a critical difference in delivering multiple key battleground states for the Democratic ticket. I’m proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with UNITE HERE to empower, one door at a time, a muti-racial, multi-ethnic coalition of voters that will propel us towards the state and the country that we deserve.”
“We are honored to be working to take back the Senate with a fierce leader like Stacey Abrams, who has broken boundaries and has always stood with working people and our families,” said Marlene Patrick Cooper, President of UNITE HERE Local 23, “The stakes in this race could not be higher, as indicated by the amount of time it took for Congress to finally agree on relief legislation. Georgia’s workers and their families need a Senate who will fight for their interests in the midst of this ongoing pandemic. Working Americans’ lives and livelihoods depend on it.”
UNITE HERE Local 23 is a labor union that represents 3,000 hospitality workers at military bases, hotels and the Atlanta Airport in Georgia. Through grassroots organizing they’ve been able to raise wages and gain crucial workplace protections.
UNITE HERE has over 300,000 members working in the North American hospitality industry. Over 75% of its members are still out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, down from a peak of 98%. During the 2020 presidential election UNITE HERE ran the largest union door-to-door canvassing operation.