Hotel workers petition to raise minimum wage

Activists gather 1,200 signatures, seeking $15 minimum wage for Providence hotel workers

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Miguelina Almanzar and Evan McLaughlin, far right, hand the petition to a City Clerk’s office worker at Providence City Hall.

Providence hotel workers and members of the hotel union Unite Here Local 217 presented a petition with over 1,200 signatures to the City Clerk’s Department Friday morning in an attempt to raise the minimum wage for Providence hotel workers to $15 per hour.

Students from the Brown Student Labor Alliance and United Revolutionary Socialists, along with other student volunteers, have been working with the union to collect signatures from registered Providence voters for the petition, said Josue Crowther ’15, a member of URS.

Over 1,000 hotel workers are employed in Providence’s 10 hotels, but only the 300 employees of the Providence Biltmore and the Omni Providence Hotel are unionized, said Jenna Karlin, a Local 217 organizer. While some unionized workers already earn nearly $15 per hour, non-unionized workers at other hotels only make $8 to $9, she added.

“It’s not right that we work for incredibly successful companies and we don’t get our fair share,” said Evan McLaughlin, a front desk and room service worker at the Hilton Providence, who makes $9 per hour.

McLaughlin was one of the two individuals who handed the petition to staff at the City Clerk’s office, along with Local 217 member Miguelina Almanzar, a housekeeper at the Omni Hotel.

The petition is a way to advocate for workers in the community, Almanzar said to the supporters and reporters gathered in City Hall. Though she earns an hourly wage of $14.66, she said, “Other workers aren’t making enough, which is why I am here today.”

After presenting the petition to the City Clerk, workers and union organizers came together for an energetic chant of “si se puede” — “yes we can.”

Union and hotel workers — particularly those at the Hilton and the Renaissance Providence Hotel — have been protesting working conditions in recent months. Following a worker protest outside the Hilton in February, three hotel workers were fired, said Andrew Tillet-Saks, a union organizer.

The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating the three terminations along with other allegations concerning workers’ rights to use the hotel’s main entrance, Karlin said.

In response to the reported work conditions at the Renaissance, Local 217 organized a boycott of the hotel. SLA and URS members spoke with the Brown University Community Council to encourage the body to participate in the boycott. The council ultimately decided against it, Crowther said, though it passed a resolution in support of the hotel workers.

While Mayor Angel Taveras has been receptive to minimum wage issues raised by the union, it does not seem likely that the petition will be approved by the City Council, Crowther said.

“No one really expects it to pass just like that, but that leads to the next big step, which is getting 5 percent of all Providence voters — roughly 6,000 people — to sign so that it can go into referendum,” he added.

Some of the volunteers who have worked on the petition express concern that the $15 per-hour minimum might seem like too much of an increase. But the increase will affect workers in different ways — the higher wage would only translate into an extra $1.85 per room cleaned for a housekeeper, said Shelby Maldonado, a Local 217 organizer.

Students initially tried to encourage City Council members and mayoral candidates to make hotel labor issues a part of their campaigning platforms for the upcoming elections, but so far the issue has not been prominent on the election agenda.

“They try not to mention it too much because their campaigns are saturated with too many other issues,” Crowther said.

  • johnlonergan

    Of the 50 states in the US last year, guess which state created the FEWEST new jobs? Why is RI a perennial loser in creating new jobs? How would raising the minimum wage to $15 for unskilled workers affect job creation in the state?

    Be careful what you wish for–an unintended consequence is that RI may lose even more jobs that residents are fighting to keep.

  • johnlonergan

    I’ve always wondered–why stop there? Why not $25/hour? Why not have people vote on their salaries? Why not pay hotel service workers $200,000 per year? What limit is there? If we aren’t considering job market/wage market demand and supply, then what do we use to determine ‘minimum’ wage? The sky’s the limit! I believe that a hotel worker should receive as much per year as the President of the United States–with full pension, security guards and housing thrown in.