On International Workers Day, Orlando hotel workers rally to raise industry standards for all – Orlando Weekly

6 minutes, 30 seconds Read

Working in the kitchens for the Hilton Buena Vista Palace resort near Disney World, cook Michael Zabata makes $20.42 an hour after 30 years on the job.

At 71 years old, Zabata knows he’s reached the age where he should be able to retire. He relies on Social Security income to help him get by. But, with Orlando’s cost of living and a subpar pension (which he only has in the first place thanks to his union), Zabata says he can’t afford to retire. Not yet.

“If I have more money in my salary, it will be less stressful,” Zabata shared Wednesday evening during a rally organized by his union in the heart of Central Florida’s tourism district. A group of about 50 union members gathered, just across the street from a nonunion Hilton hotel off Destination Parkway, wearing dark T-shirts bearing the phrase “Respect our work.”

“All hotel workers,” Zabata said, “should be able to retire with a decent pension.”

And when Zabata says “all,” he means all.

His union, Unite Here Local 737, plans to fight to raise industry standards for the roughly 300,000 hospitality workers in Central Florida, union and non-union alike, through upcoming union contract negotiations set to begin later this year.

Hotel workers in Orlando joined thousands of their fellow Unite Here union members in 18 cities across the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday, May 1, to uplift this fight and to warn of potential labor disputes in the future should  major hotel groups like Hilton not heed the call.

About 300 employees of Orlando’s Hilton Buena Vista Palace and DoubleTree Universal resorts — ranging from housekeepers to cooks, lobby staff and bartenders — have two separate union contracts that are set to expire at the end of the year, on Dec. 31.

Hotel workers in over a dozen other major cities — from Honolulu to Boston, Toronto and San Francisco — similarly have union contracts that have either expired, or are set to expire sometime this year. That means it’s time to prepare for bargaining.

Local union president Jeremy Haicken said members at both of the Orlando hotels are uniting with five key demands in mind, based on feedback they received through member feedback.

First, to raise minimum wage standards, reduce the workload of housekeepers, fight for a good pension plan that allows workers like Zabata to retire with dignity, more affordable health insurance coverage, and to end what they call the “exploitation” of nonunion temporary workers hired by the hotels through temp agencies — a practice workers say has become more common since the pandemic, leaving in-house staff to train endless cycles of co-workers who come in, without any additional pay.

“Our demands of the whole hotel industry are very clear,” said Haicken of Local 737, which represents about 19,000 hospitality and tourism employees across Central Florida, including workers at Disney World and the Orange County Convention Center.

While the hotel and tourism industry suffered losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Haicken says the industry has since bounced back. “The industry is charging more for hotel rooms than ever before, and their revenue per room is higher than ever before.”

Financial disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Department of Labor show Hilton Hotels managed to scrounge together at least $287,911 last year for anti-union consultancy services, specifically to target organizing efforts at hotels in Oregon, California and Arizona.

Even worse, that money was entirely paid out to an anti-union firm based in Orlando called the Labor Pros, a “union avoidance” firm that Orlando Weekly  published an investigative report on last year.

Back in 2015, Hilton also paid anti-union consultants over $65,000 to thwart unionization efforts specifically at their Hilton Buena Vista Palace location in Orlando, records show.

That year, Hilton altogether paid out at least $820,000 to the Labor Pros (and more to another firm, Cruz & Associates) to thwart organizing efforts at the local hotel and others across the country.

Unite Here Local 737 is specifically fighting for a contract that provides a $25-an-hour minimum wage for cooks, a $22 base rate for housekeepers, and ensures that no hotel staff member they represent makes less than $20 an hour.

“I’m fighting for myself and my co-workers. We’re doing this together to achieve what we rightfully deserve as working-class people.”

tweet this

Jeeleen Paredes, a cook at the Hilton Buena Vista, makes $16.75 an hour and is struggling with credit card debt as she fights to make ends meet. Harold Negron, a Hilton Buena Vista Palace employee of 18 years, says he sees many of his workers working multiple jobs just to stay afloat, leaving them mentally and physically spent.

“They go home with aching bodies, taking medication just to get the pain out of their bodies,” said Negron. “We should be making at least $25 an hour just to be able to survive and do things for the family.”

Under current contracts, almost all job classifications at the two hotels pay less than $20 an hour, according to collective bargaining agreements the union has posted online.

For Curtis Freeman, a banquet attendant of 29 years at the unionized DoubleTree hotel near Universal Orlando, the fight for more affordable health insurance is personal. He said he’s currently paying $450 a month for a health plan covering himself and his two youngest kids, and is uncertain when he’ll be able to afford to retire.

“I have worked so hard for three decades and I don’t deserve to be uncertain about my future,” said Freeman. “It’s sad that it seems that I’ll have to keep working until I’m 75 [before I can] think about retiring.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has seen a rise in older workers remaining in, or even reentering the workforce as the state has become less affordable for older Floridians. And it’s not just confined to the hospitality industry either.

A recent poll by the National Institute for Retirement Security found that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is facing a “retirement crisis,” up from 67 percent in 2020. More than half admitted they’re uncertain about whether they can achieve the kind of financial security they need in order to retire.

Job listings for positions non-union Hilton and DoubleTree hotels don’t even offer a pension. Instead, they advertise 401(k) plans, which are more common these days, but offer less stability.

A Unite Here organizer confirmed to Orlando Weekly that the pension is something they fought for. And while union members believe the current one is insufficient, they’re fighting for one that can better benefit them, especially their older co-workers.

The union’s current contracts covering workers at the Hilton Buena Vista Palace and DoubleTree Universal were last negotiated in 2020 and 2021, and are set to expire Dec. 31, 2024.

The union, drawing on a similar sentiment shared by the United Auto Workers during their high-profile contract negotiations last year, has declared an ambitious goal to raise standards industry-wide, not only for their members, but to also benefit hotel workers at non-union hotels, which will then have to compete with the wages and benefits established at theirs.

“I’m fighting for myself and my co-workers,” said Freeman. “We’re doing this together to achieve what we rightfully deserve as working-class people.”

Subscribe to Orlando Weekly newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | or sign up for our RSS Feed

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

Similar Posts