HOSPITALITY WORKERS ALLIANCE LETS
TOURISM MARKETING CORPORATION HAVE IT:
“WE DEMAND A FREE HEALTH CLINIC!”
CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS RESPOND WITH
PRESS CONFERENCE ENDORSING THE IDEA
-By Meg Maloney
On May 15th, The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee shook up the Tourism & Marketing Corporation Board meeting. The Tourism Marketing Corporation Board is an unelected board controlled by the biggest tourist companies. They get $140 million in hotel tax money without any public say in how its used. This tax money completely bypasses the City’s general budget without the people’s consent.
Wearing bright red t-shirts, 60 members stood while several representatives of the Committee gave statements demanding that the Tourism Corporation return our stolen taxes by building a FREE FULL-SERVICE MEDICAL CLINIC for hospitality workers. A few days later Council people Williams, Banks and Palmer held a press conference with the Corporation and the Convention Center stating that they agree this needs to be done. This is a great victory for the Committee and, more importantly, for the 88,000 hospitality workers who generate $7.5 billion dollars but see little of it returned to us. Committee member Pintos said “this came about through workers organizing ourselves, and we know we will have to keep organizing to hold the Council to their words and make the clinic a reality. We urge all our fellow workers to get involved in organizing with the Committee.” We are also fighting for a city ordinance for better scheduling and paid sick-days and will be urging the Council to take this up.
Introducing Serve The People
This is the first 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 ourspecific 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.
-By Laran Padua
My name is Laran Padua, although that is unimportant as my story is not just my own. It represents the harsh reality of an industry that maintains New Orleans’s economy. The service industry is one of our population’s largest employers and there are few if any protections in place for its workers. The service industry as a whole takes advantage of the people that make New Orleans the tourist destination it is. Without the line cooks, bartenders, waitresses, dishwashers and every one in between the New Orleans market for tourism would come to a halt. Yet we go underpaid and under-appreciated. Forced to work long hours in unsanitary environments, with unpredictable schedules and virtually no job security.
I have personally worked for companies here that demand their workers to stand in stagnant water, behind rodent-infested bars, working twelve to fourteen hour shifts with only six hours of off time, before having to be back at work the next day. If that sounds barbaric, it’s because it is. While everyone in the industry is taken advantage of and unprotected, expecting mothers are left the most vulnerable.
Earlier this year I was working at a restaurant called the Dry Dock cafe in Algiers point. This small neighborhood establishment is just one of many unjust employers throughout the city with no regard for the welfare of its employees. I was fortunate enough to become pregnant with my first child. I informed my employer, as a courtesy, that I was expecting. One week later I was terminated without warning or reason. I then proceeded to file for unemployment to supplement the loss of income and the Dry Dock Cafe appealed my claim not once but twice. This just further solidifies their lack of regard for their employees well-being.
Fortunately, after switching industries and cutting my income in half, I am currently employed. I was very lucky, but not all who are put in this position are. We need legislation in place to protect service industry employees, especially expecting mothers. Many service industry moms bring life into this world with no security or stability offered from employers. Service industry employees deserve basic rights. We deserve reasonable schedules, healthy work environments and protection when we are most vulnerable.
People like to be welcomed into a restaurant that gives off an air of leisure, where the service is friendly and warm, and the food delicious. My place of employment tries to foster that environment for its customers. However, as an employee at one of New Orleans’ top-rated brunch restaurants, I can attest to a pattern of exploitation all too common in the restaurant industry. Employees are given the option of purchasing one meal per seven to eight hour shift that is paid out of our tips. On many days, workers don’t have time to eat at all because the restaurant often fills up during the first 15 minutes of being open. Many of the bussers and back of house staff work six to seven days a week, scheduled between two work weeks so that there is no chance of receiving overtime.
If someone needs to go to the dentist or take their child to the doctor, they must re- quest time off three weeks in advance in order to be certain that they will receive that day off. Schedules are not posted in a timely fashion, and many employees work five to six months without having regular days off. Although the front of house staff puts up with a lot of frustrating aspects of the job, the back of house receives less visibility and recognition. The kitchen is run by a chef who goes unchecked, intentionally hiring men who have been previously incarcerated only to fire his employees on a whim, yell at them all day and laugh in their faces when they ask for a raise.
All of these things are not uncommon in the hospitality industry in New Orleans. When I speak with other workers about my experience, I am always met with nods of understanding and similar stories.
Workers in New Orleans need the Work Week Ordinance. We are the friendly and warm faces that serve those that come to this city from far and wide. It is our work that provides restaurant owners, hotel owners and the city with its massive profits while most of us get paid way below a living wage. We need to know our schedules in advance in order to live our lives fully, we must be paid fairly, and we must be recognized for more than just our labor. We must have the ability to spend time with our children, access healthcare and strengthen our communities.
Work Week Ordinance Campaign:
NOHWC Fights For Sick Pay and Scheduling Laws
-By Ashlee Pintos
One of the most exciting ongoing struggles that the NOHWA has undertaken is the fight to pass the Work Week Ordinance. It is a simple ordinance that would provide basic labor laws concerning scheduling as well as 12 paid sick days! This ordinance, in various forms, has been passed in several U.S. cities such as San Jose, San Francisco, Emeryville, Seattle, NYC, DC. Just this year, Austin, Texas became the first city in the South to pass paid sick days for workers.
As anyone who has worked in the industry knows, one of the greatest issues that workers face is abusive and inconsistent scheduling. We don’t get any paid sick days, let alone the ability to call off work when we are sick with-out fear of getting fired. Pregnant workers and new mothers have no job security for maternity leave, and are often pushed off of schedules once they are far into their pregnancy. Thousands of us workers throughout the city do not receive our schedules until the night before or the same day that we might have to work, and schedules are different from week-to-week.
This causes major problems with scheduling doctor’s appointments, childcare, and keeps parents from being able to be involved in their child’s education (parent-teacher conferences, school events, etc). Lastly, the lack of sick leave in the industry leaves thousands going to work sick every year. Especially with this past year’s flu epidemic (one of the worst ever), it is incredibly unsafe and unsanitary for hospitality workers to be serving/cooking food and dealing with tourists while they are ill.
Because managers and bosses are often in charge of making schedules, another huge problem in the industry is that they use scheduling as a tool to keep the workers down and to make workers do whatever they want. Currently, if a manager does not like a worker, they can simply schedule the worker on slower days, or change their shifts from nights one week to days the next just to try and get the worker to quit. If worker turns down a manager’s request to work a double, the worker’s schedule the next week might be the manager’s punishment. This is also a tool for sexual harassment where bosses have been known to hold worker’s shifts over their heads if they do not do what the boss wants. Favorites are always clear: the boss’ favorites get the best shifts which only serves to further divide workers.
This Ordinance, when passed, will put scheduling in the worker’s hands: it will no longer be a tool of the bosses to exploit the workers!
This Ordinance will protect the general New Orleans community. So far, the NOHWA has gathered over 3,000 signatures from workers who support the Ordinance. However, we know that broad community support and collective people’s power is the best and only way to put enough pressure on politicians to pass legislation that helps the workers. The NOHWA has begun to give presentations about the Ordinance and reached out to various community members to call for mass support, as it will benefit the entire community. So far, there has been support from various community organizations, churches, over 30 medical doctors, educators, as well as local lawyers including Bill Quigley of the Loyola Law Clinic. When the new city council members take their places this year, the NOHWA and all of the supporters of the Ordinance will take the next step to get it passed throughout all of New Orleans.
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, hotel taxes were $165 Million in 2015 alone. Local tax on all food and beverages (without voter approval) were $11.2 Million. It has been written into the city charter that these taxes go directly to private corporations. They are a part of an official commission, including an unelected board. Yes, over $140 million every year goes to big business like the 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. 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 state legislature denied the city a proposal to increase hotel tax by 1.75% for the general budget. One year later in 2014, the state legislature passed an increased hotel tax (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 people’s approval or knowledge.
When big businesses and politicians have millions to play with, why are workers left sick, suffering and dying? There is no excuse for this. This year, the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee met a fellow worker named Laura. A mother, a long time hospitality worker. At age 43, Laura hasn’t had insurance for about 2 years.
Why? She couldn’t afford it. This year, she finally went to the hospital to find that she had a severe heart infection that must have been brewing for 5 months to a year, and what happened? She almost got kicked out of the hospital! By some action on behalf of community members and doctors such as Mark-Alan Dery, she was able to stay. However, Laura’s life is in critical condition, and should she survive, she will likely face medical debt. If not, the debt will fall on her family: 6 children. Laura is not the only one in a situation like this; her case is an example for thousands of workers and their families every year. This is why the NOHWA has decided to confront the Tourism Marketing Commission with our demands.
Oregon Fast Food Workers Stand Up!
-By Dylan Borne
“We are fast food workers. We formed our union because we matter, we work hard, we want respect, and we need a raise,” declares the newly-formed Burgerville Workers Union. Burgerville is a fast-food chain in Oregon, and its workers face the exact same daily struggle as hospitality workers here in New Orleans. Paid an average of $11.36/hr, often without being able to go full-time, the company’s employees live in poverty. They don’t have affordable housing, health- or child-care. On top of that, many have to work stressful and unstable schedules. Most of Burgerville’s workers can’t pay Oregon’s soaring rent. Many even go hungry and have to sneak food from their job to survive. Yet the company brings in $75 million in yearly revenue. Divided up by its 1,545 employees, that’s over $48,000 per worker—much more than they’re getting paid. So, Burgerville’s workers decided to stand up. After a two-year campaign, which included striking and calling for a boycott of the company. In April, their Portland location voted to unionize officially under the interna- tional union, ‘Industrial Workers of the World’ (IWW). Quickly followed up by the Gladstone location’s unionization in May. This is big: the nation’s first formal fast food union in 5 years. And this union has teeth, it’s demanding:
A $5/HR RAISE
· AFFORDABLE AND QUALITY HEALTHCARE
· A SAFE WORKPLACE
· FAIR SCHEDULING WITH AMPLE NOTICE
· PAID FAMILY LEAVE
· TRANSPORTATION STIPENDS
· INDEPENDENCE FOR THEIR ORGANIZATION
In response, the well-salaried management has been brutal and two-faced. To the media, they put on a smile: “we are ready to support the nation’s first unionized fast food store,” a senior VP said. But they’ve been ruthless to the workers. Union members and especially organizers have been fired for ridiculous reasons: one for putting a dollop of soft serve in his shift coffee, another for throwing away a leftover chicken patty. One organizer was even set up by his assistant manager, who offered him a bagel without charging him, and then fired him for “stealing” it. But the workers are ready to fight. Despite all the push-back, it’s been one victory after another. It’s a winning struggle for all of them, young or old, mother, father, student, or grandparent. In a recent statement, the Union proclaimed:
“Our struggle is the struggle of all work-
ers, everywhere fighting for a better world.
No worker is isolated, because we form part
of a working class that together can and will
do anything. Workers have all the power, and
we demonstrated that, and continue to, with
this union victory and our march forward.”
For more info, go to: www.BurgervilleWorkersUnion.org
Who is the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Alliance?
The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee is an organization created by and for hospitality workers. We fights for our long over-due rights using the power of collective struggle. Under the guidance of labor history we know that an organized workforce is how workers win. This city has 88,000 hospitality workers, organized & united we have the power to shut this city down. If we all went on strike tomorrow the money would stop flowing, and our bosses and representatives would have no choice but to adhere to our demands. We are opposed to all forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. We support full rights & protections for our immigrant co workers. We understand our bosses use tactics that weaponize forms of discrimination to further divide workers, we must stand firm against these divisive tactics. The committee respects black, brown, women, and LGBTQ workers and welcomes them to take on leadership in the organization. Only through organizing will we be able to demand a better future for hospitality workers. We fight for better working conditions, both for workers currently in the industry and the children in the community who will inherit the industry.