Stamford, Connecticut. Today, workers at Hilton Hotel visited the manager’s office to deliver a cake decorated with the words, “Felicidades Union 217” (Congratulations Union 217), celebrating their petition for a union. The general manager, said to have hidden in the back, wasn’t there to receive the sweet gift.
Yesterday, over a hundred Hilton workers and supporters marched into the hotel lobby and demanded union recognition. Housekeeping, front desk workers, banquet servers, and cooks were accompanied by dozens of UNITE HERE Local 217 members from the nearby Hyatt.
The workers surrounded the general manager, whose face turned grey as they boisterously chanted, “We Want Freedom! We Want Union! Si se puede!”
November 13, 2017: Workers and supporters fill the hotel lobby and confront the management with their announcement to form a union
Worker representatives stepped forward, one after another, to speak out against the working conditions and demand the bosses comply with their right to organize. They served notice to the manager that a petition had been filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election. This is just the start of a three-week battle for the union; a long time coming in a town beset by inequity.
According to Business Insider, Fairfield County is among the areas most affected by inequality in the country, with a GINI Index of 0.5508. The top 5 percent has a hold of 28.7 percent of the income; the bottom 20 percent scrounges for 2.3 percent. Put another way, if Fairfield was a country, it would be in the top 10 most unequal countries in the world alongside Zambia and Hong Kong.
The stark inequalities are easy to see. The massive glass headquarters of Fortune 500 companies like General Electric, FujiFilm, and Charter Communications cast long shadows over the dilapidated public housing downtown. Service workers travel far from home to work, live in shoddy housing and struggle to make ends meet. The rich of Greenwich and Stamford are very rich indeed and the poor are increasingly impoverished. Hotel workers are on the front lines of this divide.
The hotel industry in Stamford is the second largest (and growing) in New England, and a vital part of the finance and corporate hub that made its home just inside the Connecticut borders. This to escape New York taxes while still being a short distance away from the city, and though more people are moving into CT, many companies use hotels to house their white-collar workers.
Although rooms routinely go for over $200 a night, the non-union housekeepers are forced to clean close to 30 rooms per day for about $11 an hour. This is the case workers for at the Hilton, but not for Hyatt housekeepers who unionized with UNITE HERE three years ago and are contracted to 16 rooms per day at around $16 hourly. The Hyatt workers have put in the work to support the workers and raise standards at the Hilton, knowing they will be stronger once the number of union hotels in the area doubles.
Housekeepers are not the only ones overworked and underpaid; kitchen workers are chronically understaffed and room service runners prep food, while banquet servers wash dishes, and the front desk settle tens of thousands a dollars a day for a little over minimum wage. Health care plans available to workers cost over $100 per week for families, reducing weekly pay stubs to as low as $75. Housekeeper Anna Boussiquot describes “going home after long days with a crooked back that remains crooked for hours.” Now, the Hilton workers stand tall as they unite against their boss.