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Philadelphia City Council votes to protect laid-off hospitality workers. More cities need to follow

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The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the hospitality industry, with the fallout still growing. This week the Philadelphia City Council took steps to protect workers when the economic recovery begins, unanimously passing legislation to give laid-off hospitality workers the right to be rehired when jobs start coming back. 

The bill could eventually help 12,000 Philadelphia hotel housekeepers, stadium attendants, airport food workers, and more. The Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package requires employers to offer laid-off workers jobs in order of seniority within their departments, with protection for cases where a contractor at a larger venue changes or a hotel changes ownership.

”This legislation protects our industry’s workers from any unscrupulous employers who might dare to use this pandemic to further their financial interests … at the expense of long-term employees who are overwhelmingly Black and are overwhelmingly female,” said UNITE HERE Local 273 President Rosslyn Wuchinich.

That’s a blow workers at Boston’s Revere Hotel are feeling right now—and legislation they could use from Boston lawmakers. Back in May, when HEI Hotels and Resorts furloughed the workers, it assured them, “Your date of hire will remain the same, since HEI recognizes your past service at the hotel.” But in November, HEI sent a different message: “We will be using the end of this year, December 31, to rescind earlier messaging on rehiring employees who were employed at the hotel prior to the HEI Hotels and Resorts transition,” a letter from human resources said. But hey, “when business does return to our hotel later in the year, we will post job openings to the public and if you are interested in applying at that time we will be happy to consider your application as a potential new hire.”

Some of the workers getting this message had worked at the hotel for decades.

“This is an industry that has already benefited from one bailout, it’s asking to benefit from the next bailout and frankly, it costs zero dollars to make a commitment that if someone’s job is recreated, they get that job back,” UNITE HERE Local 26 President Carlos Aramayo said. “The only reason I could see that a hotel would want to do this is that they want to hire a different person, maybe a younger person, maybe a person who is not a person of color.” Aramayo, whose union does not represent the Revere Hotel workers but is advocating for them, is concerned that hotels are using the pandemic as a chance to slash wages and benefits—not just now, but permanently.

Workers need protections that Congress isn’t going to give them, at least with Sen. Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate. A patchwork of protections across cities and states is a terrible form of government, but at least Philadelphia is taking steps to help its vulnerable workers. Other cities should take notice.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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