Many hospitality workers struggle to make ends meet in a $180 billion industry
EZE JACKSON: On Thursday October 19th, in over 40 cities across North America, mass mobilizations of hospitality workers organized rallies in solidarity to raise their voices in demanding justice for all under the Trump administration. ALBERTA PALMER: So, we’re out here because we want to show union power, worker power, and that workers are fighting. You know, ever since 45 got into office, there’s been marches for women because there obviously is an attack on women. There’s been marches for immigrants because there’s an attack on immigrants. There’s been marches for black lives. There’s always an attack on black lives, but there’s been no showing of power or solidarity within workers and there is an attack on workers. ROXIE HERBEKIAN: We are together united to fight and resist what’s been going on in Washington, which is building walls instead of building communities, which is giving tax breaks to the 1% instead of funding schools, which is not giving us affordable housing or good healthcare. So, we’re taking on that fight and we’re ending up here at City Council because we want our city officials to back up the workers. We’re fighting for these things, we want them to say the same things to the company. If you’re going to come to Baltimore, you got to do right by the residents of the city. EZE JACKSON: Unite HERE, which represents workers in a $180 billion hospitality industry and is the fastest growing private sector AFL-CIO union organized the national day of action called Serving Our Country to quote “Stand up to the Trump administration and its policies.” The union consists of hotel housekeepers, restaurant cooks, cafeteria workers, casino workers, airline concessions, and catering workers, and more. In Baltimore approximately 1,000 gaming, food, and beverage employees won their first contract at Horseshoe Casino, located in downtown Baltimore. Horseshoe Casino opened in August of 2014. The casino is the second largest in Maryland and was developed by Seaback Gaming, a group led by Caesars Entertainment. Horseshoe Casino grossed over $23,000,000 alone last year. Casinos in the state of Maryland as a whole made over $136,000,000, while many of its employees made less than $15 an hour and worked under unsatisfactory conditions. Approval of the casino came with a great deal of labor union support, but a year after its opening, union members saw that they were not getting a fair deal. Employees at the casino were making three dollars less an hour than the average union hospitality worker in the area was making. Negotiations began in 2015 and took nearly two years to reach an agreement. The agreement reached by the coalition of unions and Horseshoe Baltimore Casino brings non-tipped employees who make as low as $9.25 an hour to $27 an hour, while those who receive tips as the majority of their wages making as low as $3.72 an hour will see their pay go up to $10.76 an hour. ALBERTA PALMER: Workers at the casino were struggling affording health insurance. They had this point system where if you’re a minute late you get a point, two minutes late you get a point. The turnover was really high. From what I hear, bosses were sort of bullies. Workers had no respect, no dignity. And now that they won their contract all of that is about to be over. It’s gonna change. ROXIE HERBEKIAN: One of the big goals was to really push up wages. You know, the lowest wage there was 9.25 an hour. Now the lowest wage is gonna be 10.57 an hour. Right? The highest wage was 25. It’s gonna go up over the life of this contract to 30. And so, by the end of this contract just about everyone is gonna be above $15 an hour, which is big. And we have an agreement that those will be full-time jobs, 40-hour-a-week jobs, which is a big thing in the hospitality industry. Sometimes they’ll give someone a raise then cut their hours. Right? So, guarantees on 40 hours a week, paid 40 hours. We also improved the health insurance. They had a health insurance plan where everyone had to pay the first $1,300 out of their pocket before they got a penny from the health insurance. So, we’ve changed that no to Kaiser Permanente plan, no deductibles, people get benefits right away. The other big thing is we have an agreement for an education to do scholarships for the children and grandchildren of members and training for members on the job and finally another really big thing is we want to make sure as we make these jobs good that local residents are getting the jobs. So, we have an agreement with the company to work with us to create pipelines from Baltimore neighborhoods to the jobs. EZE JACKSON: Part of the Day of Action, Unite HERE also unveiled a new public art campaign with posters and banners featuring bold images of real hospitality workers with the message “Serving our country.” For the Real News Network with Will Arenas, this is Eze Jackson.