Issue # 2 An Open Letter to City Council

An Open Letter to New Orleans City Council Members

Jason Williams, Kristin Palmer and Jay H. Banks:

      Thank you for meeting with the Hospitality Workers Committee on May 30th, 2018. This meeting came about after our workers organization protested at a board meeting of the Tourism Marketing Corporation on May 15th. At that protest, we the workers, demanded that these funds be used to provide health-care for hospitality workers and to replace the lost wages of a worker, Laura Schnell, who suffers from a critical heart condition as a result of not having insurance. Thousands of workers throughout New Orleans do not have insurance, do not quality for Medicaid, and go untreated which leads to dire consequences such as the situation of Laura Schnell.

      Your response was to hold a press conference announcing that a new day was coming for us hospitality workers who currently suffer from low wages, wage insecurity, lack of sick pay, vacation time, workplace protections and humane scheduling. We quote Councilman Williams: “For the first 300 years of this city’s history, hospitality has looked one way, and I humbly submit that the next 300 years must look very different....I have made a clarion call to decision-makers in the industry to help us solve these issues and improve the quality of life of service industry employees.”

      We had hoped that in meeting with you following this press conference, that you three city council members would have presented us with concrete actions you would be willing to take to truly support the work of the NOHWC and workers rights. However, there were no concrete ideas to actually improve the conditions of workers; it was quite the opposite. At the meeting between you three council members and organizers from the NOHWC, you, Councilwoman Palmer, questioned whether or not it was legal to use these funds for a medical clinic or healthcare for hospitality workers.

      You three council members sit on the (non-elected) Tourism Marketing Corporation Board. The Board of these private/public commissions decides how the money is used. This does not require a city council vote. Will these millions of dollars go towards elaborate celebrations and grand openings for new business ventures for the city’s wealthiest? Will the board members enjoy a luxury meal served by the very workers they continuously chose to ignore? How long will the workers who hold up this city have to suffer while big business and corporations flourish from our labor?

     The workers of this city demand that the $140 Million generated by tourism taxes be put toward healthcare for us workers. We await a response with concrete actions.

     Sincerely,

              The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee


Workers response to claims of staff shortages.

By Nick Passabet

Restaurant owners are grumbling about staff shortages. Last week, nola.com and wwltv ran features highlighting the inability of bosses to retain staff in their kitchens and dining floors. While they mention reasons for this (‘there are more enticing service opportunities like Lyft and Uber’, ‘there are too many restaurants in the city’, ‘there aren’t enough people living in the city’ paraphrase a few examples) the complaint itself is completely unfounded. There are thousands of capable New Orleanians who can fill these positions, so why aren’t bosses hiring them?

Not new is the fact that New Orleans is a majority Black city. It is especially despicable that the unemployment rate for African-American males (working age, and adjusted for seasonality) is 48%. When asked, countless New Orleans workers can attest to the racist hiring practices in this city. We see how the front and back of house is often segregated, placing black and brown workers in lower paying positions. Those with firing/ hiring power should take a look in the mirror and ask themselves: why aren’t you hiring people? Why aren’t you offering training? If restaurants want long-term workers they need to invest in them through training, consistent living wages, and benefits.

A thorough look at restaurant culture will unearth considerable racism, sexism, and other normalized inequalities. The subtext of the recent articles makes this power imbalance clear: half a dozen GMs, head chefs, and owners were interviewed (Christian Pendelton appears in both) but only one hired employee answers questions in one of the articles (wwltv). Having no voice in the mass media is the least concern of most restaurant workers. The “gig economy” ensures almost all of us have no protection from rampant wage theft, no protection from racial discrimination and harassment, no health insurance, no reliable public transportation, no free parking, no pensions, no protections from sexual harassment, no sick days or vacation time and basically no control over when or how much we will be working each week.

This entire write-up could have be spent simply debunking the misinformation Pen- delton spreads. It will suffice to say that for each waiter Mr. Pendelton claims is earning above a living wage, there are literally thousands of servers, dishwashers, line cooks, bartenders, bussers and others workers in restaurants across the city taking home poverty wages with no benefits and probably working multiple jobs with both jobs demanding full-time availability for part-time work. Stated even more briefly, he doesn’t know who he’s talking about.

Restaurants as they are currently operated are undesirable and hostile places to work. The ways they treat, and permit their customers to treat their employees is disgraceful. These jobs provide the bare minimum for survival in the 21st century, hardly any opportunities for those working to advance and no incentives for their workforce to stay. It’s time restaurant owners change how they’re treating their workforce, the industry can afford to make changes and improve the standard of working conditions. Workers see only crumbs of the $7.5 billion they can be counted on to generate in revenue each year. Owners will continue to ignore and silence the working people, we the cooks, servers, baristas, bartenders, dishwashers, house-keepers, valets, etc, must organize and demand the changes we want to see in our workplaces.

French Rail Workers Strike for their Rights

-By Dylan Borne

Workers in France have a very keen understanding of “acquired rights.” They know that the government doesn’t hand them anything without a fight: the workers had to struggle for what they have, from education to pensions to a stable work schedule. This philosophy pays off: French workers over the years have won pensioned retirement at age 60 and a 35-hour stable workweek with a decent salary. So when the government tries to cut back on these rights, the workers know to fight back. That’s exactly what’s been happening this past June. The “President for the wealthy” Emmanuel Macron wants to slash rail worker protections.

On top of these threats, their work conditions are already very unhealthy as it is. Rail workers are on the job late into the night one day and early in the morning on the other. They work with cancer-causing asbestos, and 30 to 50 die each year of asbestos-related disease. Now France’s president is acting like they don’t deserve the pay and protections that they have. It’s clear that wealthy rail corpWorations are pulling the strings with President Macron, trying to maximize their profits at the workers’ expense. But the rail workers won’t have it. 95% of them oppose the new law. 25,000 took to the streets in protest. Led by four major unions, workers across France have been striking for 2 out of every 5 days for 3 months. It’s their longest strike in 30 years. They chose this strategy so that they could make the strike protracted, expecting the government not to cave so easily. Sure enough, one union extended its strike to July when the government refused to meet its demands.

Students and retirees have joined in the protests, knowing that a rising tide lifts all boats (better pensions and wages for some workers forces other companies to raise pensions and wages for everyone to compete). Teachers, nurses, and air traffic controllers are all striking in solidarity, and are each negotiating pay raises and protections of their own.

The Hospitality Workers Alliance stands in solidarity from New Orleans! Our struggles for a predictable workweek, better pay, and benefits are the same as theirs. What’s true in France is true here: rights aren’t given, they are won.

What is The Hospitality Workers Alliance?

The New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee is an organization created by and for hospitality workers. We fight for our long overdue 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 100,000 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. Our purpose is to organize our fellow hospitality workers so that we may secure just working conditions in our industry --- wages we can live on, benefits to support our families and freedom from harassment and dis-ncrimination in the workplace. 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.