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Culinary Union seeks ‘bailout for American worker’ following closures

Updated March 18, 2020 - 11:28 am

UNITE HERE union leaders nationwide on Wednesday called for industry and congressional leaders to “act decisively” with assistance following the unprecedented closure of hospitality businesses as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

At some hotels across the country, occupancy has fallen below 10 percent, forcing layoffs and furloughs, the union leaders said.

“We need a bailout for the American worker, not just a bailout for American industry,” UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor said.

Union leaders have been pitching a stimulus package of $150 billion for hospitality industry workers.

“We have problems with unemployment. We have a crisis brewing on health care. We have a crisis on housing. And, we have a crisis on sick-leave pay. And, we’ll probably have a crisis on food stamps because if it’s that hard to do unemployment, I would imagine many states make getting food that much more difficult, too. The American worker needs to be at the table when we have discussions,” he said.

Taylor said he is expecting congressional action by the end of the week, but he stressed that the workers — not just industry — be a top priority.

“We don’t believe in trickle down,” he said. “We believe in bottom up, and we need for the American worker to be the top priority in this recovery because 70 percent of our economy is consumer spending, and if we don’t get people pay, security on housing, security on health care, security on sick leave, we will prolong the agony of America and the American worker.”

In his opening remarks, Taylor applauded Wynn Resorts Ltd. and MGM Resorts International for pledging to continue to pay their workers in the immediate future. The two companies made their promises before Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered a 30-day shutdown — a longer period of time than most anticipated.

The state’s casinos were shut down at midnight by Sisolak’s order Tuesday and all nonessential businesses were ordered closed by noon Wednesday.

Union leaders from across the country shared the outlook in their respective states.

“The gaming industry is completely shut down,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union Local 226 in Las Vegas. “That is the heart of Las Vegas.”

Argüello-Kline called for “sick-day pay,” “quarantine pay” and a more accessible unemployment system that addresses language barriers.

Anand Singh, president of UNITE HERE Local 2 in San Francisco, said the 401-room W Hotel, a Marriott property, closed due to lack of demand. The shutdown of other Marriott hotels resulted in thousands of hotel workers being furloughed.

He said the state is under a three-week shelter-in-place order and those living from paycheck to paycheck are now having to make decisions on which bills are paid.

In Seattle, one of the earliest cities hit by the spread of coronavirus, Erik van Rossum, president of UNITE HERE Local 8, said one of the city’s iconic tourist destinations, the Space Needle, agreed to pay its workers through the end of the month. He added that the Seattle Seahawks National Football League team has stepped up to help the community through its charitable foundation and that quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, entertainer Ciara, have agreed to provide 1 million meals through western Washington food banks.

In Miami, where Walt Disney World has been closed, the company is paying furloughed workers and has donated its theme park’s excess food inventory to needy families, according to Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 355.

Walsh said the virus struck at the peak of Florida’s spring break season, when the state normally sees thousands of visitors escaping cold weather.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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