The leading labor union for hospitality workers said Wednesday that it expects 80% to 90% of its 300,000 members to be out of work due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The estimates from Unite Here illustrate the staggering economic damage inflicted on the service sector by the pandemic. The union’s members, a majority of whom are women, tend to work in hotels, airports and casinos ― all businesses that have been hammered by closures and a precipitous drop in demand.
On a call with reporters Wednesday, union officials said employees in the hospitality industry are facing an unprecedented crisis and that members of Congress and the White House need to put workers at the center of any rescue packages.
D. Taylor, the union’s president, panned the emergency paid leave bill passed Saturday by the Democratic-controlled House as “completely ridiculous,” saying it had huge carve-outs and did not go far enough in helping workers. He also said the plan being floated to cut Americans up to two $1,000 checks would be insufficient, given that each such payment wouldn’t cover a month’s rent in most cities.
“They’ve met with the titans of industry and that’s great. But we all know what we face right now,” Taylor said, referring to members of Congress and the White House. “I’m very worried that the American worker is not at the table, just American industry.”
Companies in the airline, hotel and gaming industries have been asking federal officials for help, and the White House has reportedly been considering aid such as low- or zero-interest loans or tax deferrals. Taylor said any bailouts would need to be done in tandem with increased unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, money for food stamps and housing, and guarantees on continued health care for workers who lose their jobs.
“We need to get workers bailed out and secure,” he said.
Union officials highlighted some of the stunning declines in business affecting their members, particularly on the West Coast, where some of the first known outbreaks began. In San Francisco, many of the hotels where members work have seen occupancy rates tumble to just 10 percent. In Seattle and Portland, between 4,000 and 4,500 of the union’s 5,500 members are already out of work.
“I’m very worried that the American worker is not at the table, just American industry.”
The union represents 60,000 workers in Las Vegas, where the entire gaming industry has been shut down.
The numbers get worse every day, union leaders said.
“All workers are left with at this moment is an unemployment system that’s overloaded, a sick leave system that may provide checks someday, and rent that’s due on April 1,” said Erik Van Rossum, president of Unite Here Local 8 in Seattle.
The union applauded some of the companies where it represents workers, such as Wynn Resorts and Disney, which are paying employees during the time they are out of work. It had harsher words for employers like Marriott, which is furloughing workers but not making similar guarantees on pay.
Taylor said hotel operators need to “step up” and help workers who have bills coming due.
“The social safety net is no net,” he said. “The holes are so big that people are falling through.”
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