Driving home on a cold winter day in January, I received a call from a longtime member. She was complaining about an abusive manager, schedule changes, people being sent home early, or how her hours were cut while others stayed with heavier workloads. Laura (not her real name) simply said: “Uriel, it isn’t right. I don’t get double pay. I am not slave.” I replied, “you areright.” After our brief conversation, she agreed to meet to discuss this further.
In our meeting, we concluded that the working conditions can be changed, not just by talking to hotel managers or by filing a grievance (because she has that union right) but by improving the contract in the upcoming negotiations in 2019 to make real change. She was fearful at first but, once she understood, she had agreed to take no more “crap” from her employer. Instead, she will get involved by joining the Negotiating Contract Committee to gain better working conditions.
This year, UNITE HERE Local 17 has a big contract year. Sixteen hotels in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington are renewing their contracts throughout the year, plus five more contracts at the MSP Airport, totaling 3,000 workers — all fighting for better working conditions, better wages and to keep intact their union health insurance. This is a huge year for hotel workers!
Out of those 16 hotels, eight properties are up for renewal May 1. Isn’t this a coincidence? Or just a good day for workers to renew their contracts — on International Workers Day!
Most of our members are sons and daughters of recent immigrants and new Americans. We know that in order to maintain and gain “workers’ rights” we need to stand up and fight for them. That call that I had from Laura is just one single example of hundreds of workers who come out of the shadows to leave their fear behind and fight for what is just, fight for what is right, fight for themselves, fight for our families.
Local 17’s new leadership is eager to go back to our roots: Organize, organize and organize! We are not reinventing the wheel; we just heard our members’ needs and we want to help them take their issues to the negotiating table.
Workers want real changes. Local 17 is not coming to the table alone with ideas of our own and just to win a better contract. Local 17 president Christa Mello said, “I can negotiate a status quo contract without a big fight.” She is right. We can get status quo contract agreements, but we would not achieve the real gains that can change the lives of our members and their families.
Our members are coming to the table with us. We are organized. We have a 200-person contract negotiating committee. We want to see bold changes in safety. We want real dollars, not pennies. We want to keep intact our union health insurance. We want real gains!
We extend the invitation to our brothers and sisters in all unions to get involved and fight with us across the table from the employers and to keep our local economy moving forward and working for all workers. Can we count on your support?
Please go to our UNITE HERE Local 17 Facebook page for updates, how to get involved, and how you can help in the future.
Solidarity forever, Brother and Sisters!
Uriel Perez Espinoza, vice president of UNITE HERE Local 17, is 28-year member of Local 17. He also serves as an executive board member of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.