BAMBOULA’S CASE CLOSED:
WORKERSORGANIZED FOR ACCOUNTABILITY AND WON!!
-By Julianna Luna Vasquez
In July of 2017 I began working at Bamboula’s after moving to the Big Easy from New York City. Working on Frenchmen Street was a blast and I was pretty content making good money and hanging out with new friends in the service industry. As time went on at Bamboula’s my manager Jim became a bit too friendly and made a habit of invading my personal space. My co-workers began to notice too and I did what I could to address him directly and get him to stop.
One night he crossed the line by slapping my behind, that was it for me, this wasn’t the first time and I had it. I addressed my General Manager Jennifer Collins who shrugged it off by saying he was already getting suspended for something else, and that was that. It was there that Bamboula’s failed. They disregarded me and my complaints of Jim’s behavior so I had to quit. The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance listened to my story and together we organized an action against sexual harassment to hold Bamboulas accountable.
My story was a common story amongst the women who serve your drinks and meals, I couldn’t stand by and let another story like this play out. With the help of the HWC I found legal representation and filed an official complaint with the E.E.O.C. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). On February 23rd, 2018 The March Against Sexual Harassment was one of the most powerful days of my life. Together in community with my fellow hospitality workers, we stood against an abusive work environment and confronted Bamboula’s. We marched from Congo Square through the French Quarter to Bamboula’s front door.
We demanded that they take responsibility for their lack of action, when confronted with sexual harassment in the workplace. The agreement we came to terms with is one that puts education and communication into action as means to turn the tides of Bamboula’s and hopefully places like it. The New Orleans Hospitality Alliance will facilitate a sexual harassment workshop for the Bamboula’s workers where they will be paid by Bamboula’s for their time. Management of Bamboula’s will undergo a sexual harassment training by a professional provider chosen from a list curated by my lawyer Mr. Most and I. This is an agreement I consider a victory!
This is a framework for cases to come where organization and education come hand in hand to solve a deeply rooted issue impending on women and others in the hospitality industry. I want my case to be a catalyst for change in the service industry. At the beginning of this case I felt powerless and small, incapable of holding management responsible for the sexual harassment and disrespect I faced at BambouIa’s on a regular basis. This was not started on a motive to receive attention or money.
I tried to go through the right channels and resolve this in the “correct” manner but was met with negligence. This all started because I, Julianna Vasquez, and all of the women in the industry are entitled to respect, something every worker deserves. This is why I took a stand and shared my story. Regardless of what we wear, regardless of what is assumed or judged by others, and regardless of how much someone makes a night, NO ONE deserves to be violated or degraded. The workplace is where people earn their living not where they put themselves up for judgement, harassment, or abuse. Especially when perpetrated by management & customers, who abuse their authority.
I wanted to take a stand not solely for myself but for all women. Women in the industry are consistently put in the position to choose between their own self respect, or their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Sexual harassment and abuse of workers is rampant in the service industry, and I encourage others to use what power and voice you do have to stand up against it. It will not be easy. You will be scrutinized, ridiculed, and questioned at every turn. But this is how we can create change in this industry.
By standing together, using our voices, and organizing to hold establishments accountable, we workers yield the power to create the work environment we deserve. This direct action would not have been possible without the endless support of my family, my friends, andmost importantly the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance. I can only hope that this case inspires others to share their story, to rise up for a change, not just for themselves but for all workers everywhere.
To those who answered to my story with a shrug and an apathetic “that’s a part of the industry honey” I have something to say: that is the lamest excuse to enable predatory behavior and harassment. Will that be your response to your daughter, sister, wife or friend in the same situation? This exact outlook is what has perpetuating this behavior in this industry in the first place. That may been part of the industry before but guess what? Not anymore TIMES UP!
Debunking harmful myths about our migrant coworkers.
*reprinted from the New Orleans Workers Group*
-By Ashlee Pintos
The state of Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world and one of the lowest ranking public school systems. Unemployment of black men is over 50%, the federal minimum wage has not changed in over 25 years, Air BnBs have taken over neighborhoods as rents sky rocket--all while the rich ruling class of this city celebrate 300 years of oppression. Working class people in this city are definitely struggling, and our immigrant coworkers are not to blame. Once we realize the true cause of the issues at home, it’s not hard to see how this plays out both nationally and internationally.
It’s time to take a truthful look at the attacks being wages against immigrants. To draw workers’ attention away from their common enemy, the corporate government and media urges U.S. born workers to blame immigrants for their troubles. But is there any truth to their claims? It’s time we separate myths from facts.
MYTH: IMMIGRANTS DO NOT PAY TAXES
FACT: In 2014 alone, immigrant-led households in the state of Louisiana alone paid $966.7 million in Federal taxes and $363.3 Million in state and local taxes. What is even more important to note is that undocumented immigrants STILL paid about $68 million in taxes just in 2014, but if they were able to obtain legal status, their tax contributions would have been even more: an estimated $83.2 million! Also, DACA recipients in Louisiana paid an estimated $7.5 million in state and local taxes in 2016.
FACT: MAJOR CORPORATIONS AND BIG BUSINESS RECEIVE ENDLESS TAX BREAKS AND EVEN RECEIVE TAX MONEY TO FURTHER THEIR PROFITS. Just in 2016, the State of Louisiana paid out $216 Million more in tax credits and rebates to corporations than it collected in corporate income and franchise taxes. Every single year, over $140 Million gen-erated by taxes, such as the food and beverage tax (paid by locals) and tourist taxes like the hotel occupancy tax, DO NOT go into the city budget.
Instead, this money is given to private businesses such as the Tourism Marketing Corporation, New Orleans and Company, and countless others WITHOUT THE PEOPLES’ CONSENT.
MYTH: IMMIGRANTS TAKE JOBS AWAY
FACT: We are losing jobs, but it’s not the fault of our fellow workers. Companies are not only allowed to move out of the country, but are also given tax breaks to do so. Every “free-trade” agreement has reduced jobs both here and in Mexico. The companies want workers to compete against each other.
FACT: It is the capitalist system of profit-not immigrants-that prevents us from guaranteeing good jobs for all. Capital-that is, money invested to exploit workers—can go anywhere in the world while we the workers pay the price. Our work, our production, is connected globally. That’s why there are no borders in the workers’ struggle.
MYTH: IMMIGRANTS ARE A DRAIN ON THE ECONOMY
FACT: IMMIGRANTS PRODUCE JOBS. Over 9% of immigrants living in Louisiana are self-employed. In 2014, their businesses employed 39,000 people and generated $287 million in income.
FACT: IMMIGRANT DETENTION CENTERS COST TAXPAYERS BILLIONS. It is estimated that over $3 Billion a year in U.S. taxpayer money goes to detaining undocumented people, a price that is rising since Trump’s zero-tolerance policy.
FACT: FOR-PROFIT PRISONS GET RICH WHILE WORKERS SUFFER
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS FOR CORPORATE PROFIT, BUT NONE FOR WORKERS?
A huge portion of money generated from Tourism taxes goes right into the hands of the city’s wealthiest corporations and business owners all with the politician’s approval, without the people knowing about it. For example, in 2015 alone, hotel taxes were $165 Million. Local tax on all food and beverages (without voter approval) were $11.2 Million and all of these taxes were turned over to private corporations that are official commissions that have been put into the city charter along with the taxes dedicated to them that go directly to them.
Yes, over $140 Million every year goes to big business like Convention and Visitors Bureau ($17 Million), the LA Stadium and Exposition District ($57 Million), the Exhibition Hall Authority ($58 Million), and the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation ($12 Million).
In all, there are over 60 entities that receive money generated by tourism taxes. This is money that does not go into the general budget, does not get put towards bettering our communities, healthcare, or education. With all this money floating around, shouldn’t the workers at least have access to healthcare?
It gets worse, too. A recent report called the Disparity Study stated that only 2% of revenue generated by business in New Orleans goes to Black Businesses--that’s literally pennies on the dollar going to Black New Orleanians. And, the people in charge of these commissions, work hand-in-hand with the city council and the mayor to do this dirty work.
For example, the Board members of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation are from the biggest hotel and casino chains, real estate developers, and from other commissions such as the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the LA Restaurant Associations, as well as city council members and future mayor Latoya Cantrell, Stacy Head, Nadine Ramsey and Jason Williams.
As you can see, big business and government are working closely together to profit while the workers suffer. Although outrageous, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Decisions made by the state legislature are made in favor of big business, too.
In 2013, the city was denied by the state legislature a proposal to increase hotel tax by 1.75% for the general budget. One year later, in 2014, the state legislature passed a increased hotel tax (by you guessed it: 1.75%!) to be dedicated to the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Tourism Marketing Corporation. Police of the French Quarter also got a piece: 0.25%. None of these figures talk about the tax breaks and back door deals that happen without the peoples’ approval or knowledge.
I’ve been working at the same restaurant for about two years now. Like many restaurants in this city, I started off as a busser and worked my way up to server. For the first year I only worked weekends and thoroughly enjoyed it - the hours were amazing, the food was yummy, the pay was good, and my coworkers were like family. But once my schedule opened up and I was made a full time employee, I started to see how little this restaurant values their employees.
One of my own experiences with unfair treatment came three months after I moved up. I was informed that the company had accidentally forgotten to switch my pay from $7.25 (bussing wage) to $2.13 (serving wage) and therefore they had overpaid me about $1800. Although I had never seen most of that money (majority of it went to taxes) they gave me two options to pay it back out of pocket or to deduct the amount owed out of my paycheck.
I gave them permission to do the latter, which meant that instead of making $2.13 an hour, I would be making $0.01-0.05 an hour. They estimated that it would take about three months to settle my debt, but in actuality it took six. While this worked in my favor for this year’s tax season, I’m worried that it will negatively impact my taxes for 2019.
Taking account, and taking the right notes:
A guide to documenting workplace abuse
-By Anonymous worker
We all know that managers and companies try to use fear tactics to hold our jobs over our heads, intimidating us to accepting treatment we wouldn’t normally would accept. If you have been in hospitality for any time at all, I am sure you have your own version of the played out story of the manager that likes to bully, turn co workers against each other, and create heat- ed work atmospheres. They lay blame, pretend to be our friends, make threats to get everyone unnerved, and even fire us when we voice complaints of abuse.
Even fire us when we leave to have our children, or have medical emergencies. The extent to which unjust firings and treatment perpetrated by management and owners happens is far to often to view solely on an individual basis, but better viewed as a collective problem that the workers must organize to address.
If you find yourself in a work environment where management has their shit on backwards. If pay is coming out confusing, untimely, and distributions of the tips seem questionable. If shift demands are unreasonable. (And they even have the nerve to comment on your performance. When they are clearly overworking you with back to back shifts.). We have the tools we need to gather necessary receipts to help hold management and bosses accountable.
Shitty bosses and heartless companies have us under surveillance and use their power to get away with terrible treatment. It’s time our managers and bosses experienced surveillance & accountability from the workers. Workers need to take notes and make personal records of situations. We need to identify patterns and keep notes when we are not being treated right at work.
It’s often that an employer will fire a worker, after they make complaints of workplace abuse/violation of labor laws. This is illegal under federal law, and is considered wrongful workplace retaliation. This is just one of the many ways our bosses break federal labor laws. Unfortunately there are no state laws in place to protect workers, but we can hold our bosses accountable to federal laws, as we fight to get more protection on a city/state level.
There is always risk when authority feels their power or their control is being threatened. However, there would be no reason for someone in power to genuinely fear losing it unless there was a real chance that it could be taken. The potential power that workers have once organized is more than enough to win. The key is to make this documenting practice of power, as workers we must document our experiences. If we ever want to create accountability we’ll need to gather our receipts and build our collective power as workers.
You can keep a piece of paper on you or a small notepad. Do what feels safe and easy to access without being alarming to anyone. Here are somethings you might think about answering for yourself, and your own records. (take notes right after some- thing happens or before you go to bed).
Louisiana is a One-party consent states when it comes to recording conversations. “One-Party” Consent means as long as you are a participant in the conversation, you can record at will.
This means that you have the legal right to record any conversations you have with your bosses without them knowing about it.
But you CANNOT legally record conversations if you are not an actual PARTICIPANT in that conversation without those involved knowing about it.
If a management writes you up, ask for a copy of the disciplinary notice. Alway do your best to receive a copy/or get a picture of anything your employer has you sign. If you ever want to talk to someone more about your situation, reach out the Hospitality Workers Committee, we can help to navigate the situation, and help take action if necessary.
If you have a smartphone: You have an app for quick notes or sticky notes.
You have an email and can email messages to yourself.
You have a calendar and can make notes under dates.
You have a camera/video/recording
Time and date:
Quick Summary of situation:
What managers are involved:
Anyone else involved:
Is this only about you, or are others affected:
Are you being bullied:
Manipulated or Mistreated:
Is management using intimidation tactics:
What do you need to feel safe and supported on the job:
What needs to happen to make this situation right:
Introducing Serve the People
This is the 3rd issue of our grassroots monthly newsletter, made by and for the workers who create the tourism industry in New Orleans. We’re the ones who cook the food that tourists eat, make the beds that they sleep in and bike them around the quarter. We check them in, do their dishes, play them music, serve them drinks and clean up the mess they leave behind. These tourists do spend their money for the “experience”--lots of money. At least 7.5 billion dollars per year. And still most of us are poor and overworked, barely making ends meet. We have to stress about everything: bad public transportation, high rent and bills, regular flooding. It has a huge negative effect on our physical and mental health, but most of us don’t even have reliable access to medical care-let alone paid sick days.
With all of these problems and more: you are not alone. There are around ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND HOSPITALITY WORKERS IN NEW ORLEANS. We are all different in our specific circumstances. There is inequality among the workers in this industry--between different genders, different races, and different legal status. But the majority of us live in a similar reality: the reality of poverty. This newsletter exists to report on these realities. If we are ever going to have the power that we deserve in our city and at our jobs, we need to spread an understanding of the on-the-ground realities of the tourism industry from our perspective: the workers perspective. For this reason, we will use this newsletter to connect hospitality workers with an awareness of their shared struggles. We will spread this throughout the city, to as many workplaces as possible, to link the workers of New Orleans. We hope that one day the workers of New Orleans will march together for a better future--one band, one sound.