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Hawaiian Hilton Workers Fear Permanent Layoffs As Recall Rights Expiration Nears

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This is one of two articles from Hawaiian hotel workers. Read the other, “At World’s Largest Hilton, Workers Fight for Jobs, Daily Cleaning,” here.

“Did you see Hilton is getting rid of workers permanently?” Jungmin Kim, my co-worker, came running to ask me before I could even get to the front desk. Hilton’s CEO had told investors that when the pandemic is over, Hilton will operate with fewer workers.

My blood was boiling. “They cannot do that!” But she explained that our employer had refused to extend our union contract’s recall rights past two years. Workers who have been laid off since the start of the pandemic now have just 10 months left to win our jobs back.

‘I DON’T WANT MY FAMILY TO BE NEXT’

As Covid-19 started to reach Hawaii in March 2020, more than 2,000 workers received a letter announcing management was closing the Hilton Hawaiian Village (one of the largest hotels in the world, with 3,800 rooms) and Doubletree by Hilton Alana Hotel. We hoped the pandemic would pass and we would return to work in a month. It became more terrifying when months passed and there was still no word.

More than a year later, though Hilton-managed hotels are finally open, only a few of us have been recalled. The rest are scared: of when they will be able to return to work, how they will afford their rent or mortgage, and what they will be feeding their kids should the situation remain the same.

At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, management recently reopened the Wiki Wiki Market, Starbucks, and Starlight Luau after months of workers fighting for union restaurants to reopen. Some food and beverage workers were finally able to return to work.

Unfortunately, there are still workers like Earl Kono, an employee at Tree’s, who was told by his general manager that there are no plans to reopen Doubletree by Hilton’s only in-house restaurant.

“Losing my recall rights frightens me,” said Kono. “I am a single father taking care of my kids and my grandson. Every night, I’m on the verge of breaking down thinking about our future. I’ve been hearing stories on the news about people going homeless, and I don’t want my family to be next.”

The engineers in the maintenance departments are also anxious. Jesus Ragasa, an engineer at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Alana, is working full-time again. Many of his colleagues, however, remain furloughed. He anticipates double the workload if there continue to be only three full-time engineers, instead of the eight engineers pre-pandemic.

FIGHTING FOR EXTRA TIME

An extension of recall rights would give the furloughed workers extra time to fight for their jobs back, especially when hotels return to full occupancy. If workers who were laid off in the beginning of the pandemic are not recalled by March 2022, Hilton might end these positions permanently.

Meanwhile, workers at other union hotels represented by UNITE HERE Local 5—such as the Ala Moana Hotel, Modern Honolulu, and Waikiki Beach Resort—fought for and already won one more year of recall rights.

Jason Maxwell, a bartender at the Modern Honolulu, organized his co-workers to demand an extension from Diamond Resorts, the timeshare company that owns and operates his hotel.

“When we would get management to Zoom meetings, we would load the call with about 40 workers,” he said. “We made sure they listened to the concerns of workers directly.”

“Management tried to hide their anger, but the Diamond Resorts guy began panicking and hung up because of the number of workers on the call. The meetings lasted hours, because we brought up other issues like workplace safety.

“We also passed out leaflets to guests and conducted safety inspections to make sure management was implementing the proper safety procedures in the middle of a pandemic,” added Maxwell. “At some point, management tried to block us from coming onto property. We stood firm and kept going.”

Maxwell said he was close to achieving his dream of buying a home for his family pre-pandemic. “[Winning] the recall rights extension gave me hope. It gave our union a chance and time to fight. If they do bring jobs back, then the same workers come back,” he said, relieved that the pandemic was not the end of his dreams.

WE WANT OUR JOBS BACK

There is a false narrative that workers are living comfortably off unemployment and do not want to return to work. In reality, we are struggling and on the edge of our seats, frightened for the future. We desperately want our hotel jobs back.

“We have to stick together and fight for our jobs,” said Kono. “We have to organize and push our managers to do something about this.

“Extending isn’t going to cost them a penny, so why is it so hard for them to agree with us and give us peace of mind?”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on July 29, 2021.

About the Author: Aina Iglesias is a front desk worker at the DoubleTree Alana by Hilton and a member of UNITE HERE Local 5.


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Union urges Small Business Administration to take a close look at hotel chain’s post-PPP layoffs

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The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was supposed to keep small businesses from laying off workers during the coronavirus pandemic. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) It hasn’t always worked out that way. Trump and Kushner businesses got loans, as did predatory payday lenders, but many of the businesses that needed the loans most were left out

UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality workers, has set its sights on a major hotel chain that got tens of millions of dollars in PPP loans but laid off the workers at many of its hotels. In a letter to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the union calls on the SBA to “closely scrutinize” the hotels and the lending banks.

Omni hotel affiliates got a whopping $76 million across 32 PPP loans, according to UNITE HERE. But in the cases for which the union has “direct knowledge,” five hotels got nearly $15 million in loans. Despite that, “Three of them—Omni Providence, Omni San Francisco and Omni William Penn—are temporarily closed, and none of our members have been rehired or paid by the hotel. The Omni New Haven and Omni Parker House only recently reopened without all of their facilities, and the hotels have failed to recall more than 80% of our members who work at the hotels.”

This is not what the PPP was supposed to do, and it’s directly harmful to the workers. “The failure of these hotels to rehire their employees has financially harmed our members and created great uncertainty for them and their families. So far, we have not received commitments from Omni to use the loans to fully rehire the workers we represent.”

The union also sent letters to the managers of the hotels in question, noting that they appear not to be in compliance with the PPP’s terms and calling on them to rehire workers, along with letters to the banks responsible for most of the loans, calling on them to take a very close look at whether the hotels qualify for forgiveness.

“It is time for the SBA to step up and ensure that money intended to help American workers actually benefits them,” said UNITE HERE Executive Vice President Carlos Aramayo. “It is unfathomable that massive corporations like Omni have access to millions of tax-payer backed loans, while hundreds of their workers remain without a paycheck heading into the holidays.”

Rep. Katie Porter previously called for an investigation into hotel layoffs in and around her California congressional district after those hotels received PPP loans.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on December 15, 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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These Hotel Workers Say They Shouldn’t Have to Work Multiple Jobs to Make Ends Meet

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Hotel workers union UNITE HERE isn’t resting on its laurels after winning a contract fight with the giant Marriott chain late last year. The union is pursuing new organizing efforts, including a push in Baltimore for a first contract covering some 145 newly unionized members there, according to Vikas Mohite, a full-time Marriott employee and active rank-and-file union member.
 This article was originally published at In These Times on August 8, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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After nearly 2 months on strike, Hawaii workers secure better contract

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Hawaii hotel workers, who went on strike in early October, finally reached a deal on their contract. After 51 days of striking, workers have won higher wages as well as more funding for health care and pensions.

The contract will provide for $6 per-hour increases in wages and benefits over four years, which is the most the union has negotiated, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. For many weeks, workers at Marriott-operated and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts-owned hotels lived off union stipends that were hundreds of dollars less than what they would make in a week.

Paola Rodelas, spokeswoman for the union, Unite Here Local 5, told Travel Weekly when the strike first began that the wage was insufficient for hotel workers living in a state with such a high cost of living. A worker in the state would need to make $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Rodelas added that job security and adequate staffing and safety procedures were important to the union, saying that “Housekeeping is back-breaking work.”

Non-tipped hotel workers secured a $1.50 per hour wage increase and tipped employees received a $0.75 hour wage increase. Workers have an additional 20 cents and 13 cents per hour for health care and for pensions. The union agreed to set aside 10 cents an hour to provide for childcare, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the hotels, has agreed that housekeepers can clean fewer rooms each day and pregnant women in particular will clean fewer rooms. Hotel workers were also concerned about their jobs being affected by automation. The hotel said it will let the union know in advance if it will be getting automating and thus wiping out people’s jobs.

Gina Aczon, a hotel employee who takes care of reservations, told Hawaii News Now that the 51-day strike was difficult on families, particularly around the holidays.

Aczon said, “I’m really happy that this is already done so that we can enjoy the holidays.”

An overwhelming majority, 99.6 percent of workers, approved the deal.

Vacationers and business travelers definitely felt the absence of workers. According to Hawaii News Now, visitors at the striking hotels said pools and food and bar services were closed, bathrooms went uncleaned, and they didn’t have enough clean towels. One couple actually filed a class action lawsuit against Marriott International and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts after they found the hotel stay they planned for their honeymoon did not have housekeeping and had very few services and amenities. Some guests also complained about the noise of workers striking outside hotels.

The Hawaii hotel workers join Marriott workers in Boston, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, and Detroit who secured new contracts after going on strike in October. Those strikes lasted for weeks but alended earlier this month, with those workers securing higher wages, better health benefits and working conditions, and ending unsafe workloads. The only hotel workers who are still on strike are workers in San Francisco, who ate Thanksgiving dinner on the picket line. Negotiations will resume this weekend. In total, about 7,700 hotel workers went on strike in October.

As part of the Unite Here strike effort, hotel workers held signs that read, “One job should be enough.” Union members said one job’s pay should keep up with the cost of living and support families and that workers should be able to “retire with dignity.”

Many Americans still have multiple jobs despite lower unemployment rates, mostly due to slow increases in pay and employers not increasing hours and benefits.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 28, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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Hawaiian hotel workers want better pay for state’s high cost of living

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Thousands of Marriott hotel workers in Hawaii say they want better wages, sexual harassment protections, and a promise not to be replaced by automation. They have been on strike for more than a week, but it doesn’t appear the strike will end anytime soon.

Hotel workers who are members of Unite Here Local 5 have been working without a contract since July and voted to authorize a strike in September, Hawaii Public Radio reported. They have been picking outside of five hotels managed by Marriott and owned by Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, but neither company has tried to schedule new bargaining dates with the union. A week ago, Unite Here Local 5 and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts reached an impasse on negotiations, according to the Associated Press. Hotel workers at two additional hotels could go on strike at any time, since they also voted to authorize strikes.

Workers have been holding signs that read “One job should be enough,” which means pay should keep up with the cost of living, that people should be able to support families with their paychecks from one job, and that they should be able to “retire with dignity,” according to the workers’ labor union Unite Here. It also refers to what workers say is an expectation that hotel workers do the work of two people.

Marriott hotel workers went on strike in eight cities across the country last week, including San Francisco, Boston, Oakland, Detroit, San Diego, and Oahu and Maui in Hawaii. In Hawaii, 2,700 Marriott hotel workers are on strike. Like the hotel strike in Chicago, this strike includes workers from a variety of positions, such as doormen, front desk attendants, restaurant workers, and housekeepers. In Chicago, workers who are part of the Unite Here Local 1 union mainly focused on year-round health care and hotel strikes included a number of hotel brands, including Hilton and Hyatt. Workers at only one hotel are still on strike after five weeks. The union has settled 25 contracts that give workers year-round health insurance.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts released a statement Friday that said they are “committed to continuing our good faith bargaining.”

But Michael Kirby, a member of Local 5, told The Maui News that the company needs to address workers’ specific demands.

“I understand that Kyo-ya wants to welcome the workers back. They haven’t set a date to do any kind of contract negotiations,” Kirby told the publication.

Tourism officials are worried the strike could continue into 2019 and current and former hotel and travel industry executives say they’re worried about bookings, the AP reported. Visitors staying at the striking hotels have also complained about their stays, which included closed pools, no food and bar services, uncleaned bathrooms and a lack of clean towels, to name a few issues. Some people have asked for full and partial refunds as a result, Hawaii News Now reported.

Pay that properly covers housing is a big issue for hotel workers in Hawaii. Home values for someone living in Hawaii are very high, at a $617,400 median home value and a median rent of $1,573. The state has had the highest median housing values in the U.S. since 2007. Housekeepers made $22.14 per hour under their old contract. Paola Rodelas, spokesperson for the union, told Travel Weekly that this wage isn’t sufficient for hotel workers in the state. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Hawaii worker would have to make at least $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Looking at Honolulu specifically, a worker would need to make $39.06 to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Rodelas told Travel Weekly, “For our workers, the most important issue is to make one job enough to live in Hawaii. It has to do with wages and benefits, but it also has to do with a range of issues. It also encompasses job security, automation and technology in the workplace, the increasing use of subcontractors and outsourcing, which is a big issue in Hawaii, and workplace safety. Housekeeping is back-breaking work and there are rampant issues of sexual harassment in hotels. We want to make sure there are adequate staffing and safety procedures.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.


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‘One job should be enough,’ striking Marriott workers say

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Thousands of Marriott hotel workers are on strike in eight U.S. cities in a campaign with the slogan “one job should be enough.” The workers’ union points out that Marriott’s profits have risen by 279 percent since the great recession, while worker pay has gone up only seven percent. “As the largest hotel employer in the world, Marriott can set the standard in the hotel industry,” they write, and that standard should be that one job is enough.

Workers are on strike in Boston, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Maui, and Oahu, pressing for contracts that pay them a living wage as well as improving workplace safety through panic buttons for housekeeping staff and a reduction in some of the most grueling physical labor—hotel housekeepers have a very high rate of injury on the job. Workers are also worried about automation and other labor reduction efforts by the company.

Yleine, a room attendant in Vancouver, says in a video that “I’m doing two different jobs because I’m not getting enough hours in my hotel, and don’t have enough time to look after my son. I feel like, still, I can’t make it.”

In Hawaii, other unions got behind the strike, with flight attendants, sheet metal workers, and others moving their business away from Marriott hotels.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on October 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Chicago hotel strike enters sixth day, as workers demand year-round health insurance

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Thousands of Chicago hotel workers continued their strike for the sixth day Wednesday, primarily to demand a year-round health insurance guarantee. The union said workers also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads, the Associated Press reported. Their contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, expired on August 30.

The number of hotel workers involved in the strike has only increased since then. On Monday, workers at Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile joined the strike, which brought the count of hotels affected by the strike to 26. Before the strike, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE Local 1’s members voted on the issue and 97 percent voted to authorize it.

The union told the Chicago Tribune that it is the most widespread and coordinated hotel worker strike ever held in Chicago. It’s the first strike in the city to include all hotel workers, whether they’re dishwashers or housekeepers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

As the Tribune reported, there are only four hotels that have expired contracts where hotel workers are not on strike: Hotel Raffaelo, Tremont Chicago at Magnificent Mile, Park Hyatt Chicago, and Fairmont Chicago.

Some fine dining restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s fine-dining restaurant and Torali Italian-Steak, are closed or offering limited menus. Inside the Palmer House Hilton, long lines await check-in, dirty towels have been piling up, and beds have been left unmade, according to ABC7. One guest, Matt Lissack, told ABC7 that the line for check-in was “literally around the building.”

In the central business, there are 174 hotels, which means travelers could stay somewhere that is not dealing with contract negotiations, but the hotels in the midst of a strike are some of the biggest ones in Chicago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Q. Rivers, who works at Palmer House Hilton, said in a statement on the union website, “Hotels may slow down in the wintertime, but I still need my diabetes medication when I’m laid off. Nobody should lose their health benefits just because it’s cold out. Full-time jobs should have year-round benefits.”

Each hotel or hotel brand does its own negotiation with the union, so management at some hotels and brands could make agreements with the union before others. Hotel groups say it’s too early in the negotiation process for workers to go on strike, and say they have not yet reached an impasse with the union.

Thousands of workers have disagreed. A spokesperson for Hyatt sent a statement to ABC7 saying, “In fact, Hyatt has not received the union’s complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement … Many colleagues are working …”

A Hilton spokesperson told the outlet “More and more of our union Team Members are choosing to return to work and we welcome them to do so,” adding that “It is still early in the negotiations process and Hilton is committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 recently helped workers by advocating for a Chicago ordinance that made the city the second in the country to require that hotels have panic buttons. These panic buttons allow hotel workers to request help if a guest is harassing or sexually assaulting them. In 2016, the union put out a survey that showed 58 percent of those surveyed were sexually harassed by guests.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits


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Working People Give a Bold Union Yes in Las Vegas

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fullsizerender-385x1024If you were lamenting that Labor Day’s current day association with leisure has obfuscated the true meaning of the holiday—don’t despair because the working people of Boulder Station Hotel & Casino got together over the Labor Day weekend and after a long battle said, “Union Yes!”

More than 570 Boulder Station workers will now enjoy and exercise their right to come together and make things better at their workplace with the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165. Boulder Station is the first of Station Casinos’ properties in Nevada to vote yes for unionization.

“It is very simple: We voted for the union because we want to have a union at Boulder Station,” said Rodrigo Solano, a cook at the casino, which opened in 1994. “After all these years of fighting to make our jobs better, it is time for management to listen to us: We want to have fair wages and good health benefits like tens of thousands of other casino workers in Las Vegas.”

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 At the large casino-hotels owned and operated by Station Casinos in Las Vegas, including the soon-to-be-acquired Palms Casino Resort, workers have been publicly demanding a fair process to exercise their right to choose whether to form a union. Station Casinos responded with a vicious anti-union campaign.Despite the attacks, the working people of Boulder Station came together.

“Our company has enjoyed great success because of the hard work we put in every day to provide great service and hospitality,” said Maria Portillo, a food runner at Boulder Station. “We deserve to have a union contract that gives us job security, fair wages, good health care and a pension so that we can have the opportunity to provide for our families through our hard work.”

In the recent environment of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment spewing from those vying for the highest offices, while also embroiled in concurrent battles with unions of working people, it’s great to see workers stand up and join forces with the Culinary Workers Union. The Culinary Workers Union is Nevada’s largest immigrant organization with more than 57,000 members—a diverse membership that represents just over 50% Latino workers, as well as a membership of about 50% women. Members—who work as guest room attendants, bartenders, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and kitchen workers—come from 167 countries and speak more than 40 different languages.

“We know about the Culinary Workers Union and Bartenders Union, and the union standard that workers have fought to have for more than 80 years, and we made our decision based on those facts,” said Jeri Allert, a cocktail server at Boulder Station. “I look forward to negotiating a good union contract that protects my co-workers and our families.”

The hardest fought battles can yield the sweetest victories—a bolder #UnionYes and the power of a union to keep fighting for what you deserve.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO.  She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.


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The Unlikely Agitator

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The ‘Justice for Janitors’ firebrand on the struggle to unionize: ‘I’m not invisible anymore. I’m never going to be.’

Monica Martinez-Vargas

Monica Martinez-Vargas knows what it’s like to be invisible.

For much of her career, she worked two shifts in downtown Denver – one cleaning hotel rooms and the other cleaning office buildings.

In the mornings, she’d report to work in her maid’s dress and apron, pushing her housekeeping cart up and down a hotel hallway where she had eight hours to clean 16 rooms regardless of how many clothes were strewn across the floor or how much ketchup needed to be scraped off a lampshade. The goal was to be as quick and inconspicuous as possible stripping beds, changing sheets, replacing towels, vacuuming the carpet, dusting furniture, scrubbing the tub, disinfecting the toilet, scouring the sink and folding the end of each bathroom tissue roll into a crisp, neat triangle – all between the time a businessman left for breakfast at 7:15, say, and returned to his room for a conference call at 8 a.m..

The hotel guests would pass Martinez-Vargas in the hall. Some would nod. Some would ask for “more towels, please, gracias.” And some didn’t seem to notice her at all.

She was even more invisible in the office buildings where she worked at night. Long after white-collar hours, she’d empty trashcans, dust window blinds and sweep crumbs from the cubicles of people for whom she was out of sight and out of mind, as if their offices were tidied somehow by magic.

By the mid-1980s, when Martinez-Vargas had moved to Denver from Mexico by way of California, most small companies that cleaned office buildings had been elbowed out by big janitorial contractors that typically hired Central American workers for minimum wage and no benefits. It was dirty work, literally and figuratively. Most janitors were undocumented immigrants who lived in fear of losing their jobs and being deported, or even noticed, for that matter.

Invisibility had its soul-sucking loneliness. But as a form of survival, it was the safest way to work.

“It was dehumanizing, working alone, in shadows. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know my rights. I didn’t have any connections. That made us vulnerable to the things they did to us, the humiliations. You could see the injustice. But you felt like you couldn’t do anything to stop it,” she says, interpreted from Spanish by Lauren Martens, state council executive director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), in which Martinez-Vargas, 69, is still active six years after retiring.

SEIU represents janitors, security officers, health care workers and state employees.

This blog post continues at the Colorado Independent.

This article originally appeared in the Colorado Independent on April 21, 2014, followed by SEIU on April 22, 2o14. Reprinted with permission.

Author: Susan Greene/COLORADO INDEPENDENT


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Hotel Workers Stiffed Millions In Wages, Lawsuit Alleges

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Dave JamiesonMore than a dozen low-level hotel workers in Indianapolis have filed a class-action lawsuit against ten of the city’s hotels and a labor staffing agency, claiming they were routinely cheated out of pay with the knowledge of hotel management.

The workers — most of them Hispanic immigrants employed as housekeepers, dishwashers and bussers — say they were forced to work off the clock and through their unpaid breaks, sometimes pushing their earnings below the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The suit could potentially involve more than a thousand workers and millions of dollars in claims, according to the hotel workers union UNITE HERE, which is organizing workers in Indianapolis.

The employees named in the suit worked for a labor agency called Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), which provides lower-rung workers to hotel companies like Hyatt on a temporary basis in cities across the country. On its website, HSS declares itself a client’s “secret weapon for improving service while cutting costs — 12% annually, on average.”

A HuffPost report in August chronicled how the outsourcing of work to HSS has led to a two-class system within certain hotels, as lesser-paid agency workers toil alongside better-compensated direct hires. Several Indianapolis hotel workers told HuffPost then that the agency shorted them on their wages and threatened them with dismissal if they couldn’t finish their work in the allotted time. The CEO of HSS said at the time that any instances of unpaid wages were honest mistakes and that the company took the allegations seriously.

Management at Georgia-based HSS could not immediately be reached for comment. This isn’t the first time the company has been sued by workers. A former manager in Pittsburgh once filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired because he stood up for housekeepers who weren’t being paid what they were owed. The company has also been criticized for an advertisement it ran in a hotel trade publication that showed tiny workers inside a vending machine, apparently ready for purchase.

The HSS-staffed hotels named in the Indianapolis lawsuit include Embassy Suites, Marriott, Westin, Hyatt, Holiday Inn and Omni properties.

Martha Gonzalez, 28, one of the workers now suing, tells HuffPost she worked at Hyatt and Marriott properties as an HSS employee earning the minimum wage. She says that she was required to come in early and prepare her housekeeping cart before punching in, and that she often wound up working through her lunch break or clocking out to finish work at the end of the day, to avoid being punished. She says she quit last summer.

“I was sick of getting a check that didn’t meet my family’s needs,” Gonzalez, who’s from Mexico, says through a translator. “Every check was just too small. I was so tired of working in a place under pressure, getting calls from the manager, ‘Are you finished? Are you finished?'”

Plaintiff Anastasia Amantecatl, who worked for HSS as a housekeeper at a Marriott, claims that she was compelled to show up two hours before her shift actually started each day. “This was necessary for her to complete her required number of rooms for the day,” the lawsuit states. “She was not compensated for this time nor was she paid the required overtime premium for this time.” The lawsuit alleges that between 20 and 25 housekeepers found themselves in a similar situation at the hotel.

Many hotel workers in Indianapolis have told HuffPost that their workloads have increased in recent years as their wages have remained flat or even gone down. Workers and their advocates partly blame the outsourcing of previously in-house jobs for deteriorating work conditions.

A hotel company can save money by shifting some of its workforce to a company like HSS, since it would no longer be responsible for providing costly worker benefits. But workers employed by labor agencies are technically temps, sometimes going years on end without receiving health coverage or pay raises. Similar temp outsourcing has become widespread in the warehousing and logistics industries, where many workers blame the temp model for their low wages and lack of benefits.

Officials with UNITE HERE argue that the outsourcing at hotels has hidden costs for the city and state, such as the taxpayer-funded health care that many agency workers’ families end up using. “I don’t think the taxpayers of Indianapolis should be the ones to subsidize these workers because these corporations don’t want to [provide] living wages and benefits,” Becky Smith, a union organizer, told HuffPost last summer.

Salvador Perez, a 38-year-old father of two from Mexico, is also named in the hotel lawsuit. He says that he worked for HSS for the last few months of 2011, earning the $7.25 minimum wage as a dishwasher. He claims he would regularly work a 40-hour week but end up being paid only for 35. He says he’s suing with his colleagues to recover back wages and “end the exploitation that’s happening at hotels downtown.”

“We struggled to pay for diapers for our baby,” Perez says. “We had to go to food pantries and churches to feed our families. They always said, ‘It’ll come with the next check, it’ll come with the next check.’ But it didn’t.”

This article appeared in The Huffington Post on January 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Jamieson is the Huffington Post’s workplace reporter.Before joining the D.C. bureau, Jamieson reported on transportation issues for local Washington news site TBD.com and covered criminal justice for Washington City Paper. He’s the author of a non-fiction book, Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, and his stories have appeared in SlateThe New RepublicThe Washington Post, and Outside. A Capitol Hill resident, he’s won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award.


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The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.