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Hotel workers in Providence rally to guarantee their jobs after the pandemic



I don’t know what my family will do if I don’t get my job back once this is all over,” said hotel worker Angelique Meas. “This pandemic has been stressful enough as it is. We shouldn’t have to worry about if we’ll get our jobs back too.

Since the beginning of the pandemic many hotel workers have been unable to return to work because business has slowed and some hotels remain closed for business. Those that are open require minimal staff to handle the trickle of business. Without the intervention of the Providence City Council, hotel employees could lose their jobs if nothing is done to ensure that when the work comes back, they get their positions back.

To ensure that hotels rehire employees when the pandemic is over, a supermajority of the Providence City Council has supported the Hotel Comeback Ordinance, a regulation to protect hotel workers through the crisis by giving those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic the ability to return to work once the work comes back.

On the steps of the Providence City Hall, a crowd of over forty Unite Here! Local 26 members and supporters gathered to thank the City Council for taking prompt action on the ordinance. The crowd was initially planned to be much bigger, but the union felt it best to limit the size of the gathering because of the COVID resurgence here in the state.

Hotel worker Angelique Meas
Hotel worker Dilenia Belliard

“The industry has been affected in every municipality in the country, and across the country, the same challenges exist – and I think the same threats exist,” Carlos Aramayo, President of Unite Here! Local 26, told UpriseRI after the rally. “The threat being that the industry, the owners of this industry, will cynically use the pandemic to cut people’s wages and to frankly get rid of folks who have a lot of years of service in this industry and towards the end of their careers, to try and bring in folks who are a lot younger, at a lower rate. We’re talking about Providence today, but this is a challenge in the industry writ large.”

Asked by UpriseRI why the hospitality industry in Providence has not stepped up to guarantee jobs to their employees, Aramayo said, “Where we represent workers, we have asked [hotel industry owners] to do the right thing – to voluntarily say, “Yes, we agree, we’ll hire people back’ and we have yet to get a single bite.”

There’s a lot of state and federal recovery money that has gone into the hotel industry, noted UpriseRI.

“I’ll give an example,” said Aramayo. “The Omni here, got a PPP loan. They have not used a single penny. 60% of that money was supposed to go towards wages and benefits for incumbent employees. They have not used a penny of that for the employees.”

According to the Washington Post, “…Omni Hotels & Resorts, owned by Texas billionaire Robert Rowling, were approved for multiple loans from the [PPP] program — one for each of 15 hotels — totaling $30 million to $71 million. But seven remain closed, and at those, most workers are on unpaid furloughs, union officials said. The company also has declined union requests to continue to pay health insurance for furloughed workers, union officials said.”

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Unite Here! Local 26 represents hotel room attendants, front desk reception, bellmen, cooks, dishwashers, and union hotel and food service workers from across Rhode Island, including TF Green Airport food and beverage, utility and warehouse workers, Twin River Casino workers, and downtown hotel workers from the Omni Providence, Graduate Providence, and Renaissance Providence.

The ordinance was introduced by Providence City Councilmember Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) and co-sponsored by 12 other members, including the Council President, Sabina Matos (Ward 15). In a statement, Ryan noted the tax stabilization agreements, essentially large discounts on their taxes, hotels have received in Providence, writing that the “City of Providence has invested heavily in tourism… [t]hrough tax stabilization agreements that gave investors the help they needed to bring their hotels to Providence. This investment was also an investment in the City’s workforce.”

Here the video:

Carlos Aramayo:

“I don’t know what my family will do if I don’t get my job back once this is all over,” said hotel worker Angelique Meas. “I used to be able to afford taking my daughter out and my granddaughter out, but now the simple things like that are out of reach. This pandemic has been stressful enough as it is. We shouldn’t have to worry about if we’ll get our jobs back too.”

AFL-CIO President George Nee:

Hotel worker Dilenia Belliard:

Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner:

Carlos Aramayo:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.