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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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Amid ‘Sabotage’ Investigation, Honeywell Lays Off Plant’s Entire Union Workforce

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mike elk

Last Thursday, May 10, at around 2 p.m., managers walked into Honeywell’s uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., and told workers—both union and nonunion—they had to leave the plant immediately. Multiple workers present say a manager explained the sudden dismissal by noting that the company had to investigate “sabotage” of plant equipment.

Since May 10, Honeywell has allowed 100 of 170 nonunion salaried workers to return to work, and has allowed 90 of its 100 nonunion contactors to continue working in the plant. But none of the plant’s 168 hourly union employees have been allowed to return to work—the company has informed them that they’ve been laid-off indefinitely. All laid-off union workers were immediately left without pay and health insurance. In contrast, when Honeywell locked out USW union workers in June 2010, it waited nearly three months to cut off their health insurance.

The Metropolis plant is no stranger to contentious labor relations. In 2010 and 2011, it  was the scene of a tense 13-month long lockout of United Steelworker (USW) members. That dispute was resolved last fall when the union ratified a new contract. Since then, however, the work environment has been tense; several key USW Local 7-669 leaders have been fired by Honeywell. Local 7-669 leaders say Honeywell is trying to bust the union.

For many workers, the order by management to leave the plant felt like lock-out déjà vu. “I have been through a lockout and it felt like this. If this isn’t a lockout, I don’t know what it is,” Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech says.

But unlike a lockout—a tactic companies sometimes resort to when contract negotiations have stalled—laid-off union members cannot picket the worksite location. If the union did so, a company can claim that the union is engaged in an “illegal strike” and the union would then be subject to heavy fines. Lech says the union is looking into all legal options and being very careful.

“I would not suggest that company would create a circumstance to frame the union, but if they were presented with a circumstance, I know they would love to find a way to use it somehow against the union,” Lech says.

The sudden layoffs may be a violation of their contract language, he says. The contract states that Honeywell must give workers at least five days notice of any layoffs. Metropolis workers were given no notice. “If the circumstance allows it, we will certainly picket and go down the road of action,” says Lech.

Asked Wednesday whether or not the lay-offs were legal, Metropolis plant manager Larry Smith hung up. Honeywell, which is based in New Jersey, did not respond to further request for comment. Company spokesman Peter Dalpe told the Chicago Tribune that he “can’t comment on the specific damage, but added that the equipment was not operational.” Dapel also told the Tribune “that the company intends to resume production after it assesses the damages and inspects the plant.”

Joey Ledford, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the plant, told the Chicago Tribune, “We are standing by watching their investigation and we will do our own follow up.”

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on May 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.


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