BY ADAM RITSCHER
As we go to press: It is reported that on June 29 the strikers voted to approve a new contract negotiated by the union.
MINNEAPOLIS-In what has proved to be the largest hotel workers’ strike the Twin Cities has seen in 20 years, the strike of Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 17 sent a clear message to big business in Minnesota that poverty wages will no longer be tolerated.
Local 17, representing 1300 hotel workers in Minneapolis and Bloomington whose contract expired April 30, has waged a vigorous struggle against the giant hotel companies. The union demanded major pay raises so that “no hospitality worker must live in poverty,” company-paid family health-care coverage, and a company-paid English language training program.
Consisting largely of women, Black, Asian, Latino, and immigrant workers, the Twin Cities hotel work force has long been forced to accept below average wages and benefits, with the INS sometimes stepping in to threaten deportation of workers who talked of resistance. In fact, the union just recently won a battle over the attempted deportation of nine Latino workers.
Local 17 Principal Officer Jaye Rykonyk described the attitude of the strikers as being simply fed up. He explained: “Our workers are sick and tired of having to work two jobs to make ends meet. They understand that these millionaire employers are trying to exploit them because they are women, because they are minorities, because they are immigrants. The workers are ready to stand up and fight for justice.”
Over 65 percent of the Minneapolis-Bloomington hotel workers participated in the union’s strike vote, and of them 94 percent voted to strike. In one hotel every single worker who voted cast a strike ballot! And the timing of the strike couldn’t be worse for the companies. With practically every hotel room in the Twin Cities booked (largely because of the 50,000 people expected to attend the International Alcoholics Anonymous Convention on June 28) the hotel companies are poised to lose millions.
In an attempt to keep the hotels open, the hotel companies flew in hundreds of out-of-town workers, hired several union-busting security companies, and actively recruited scab labor. However, despite the best efforts of the hotel PR people, along with some of the local TV stations, to prove that food is still being served and the beds are still being made, business is taking a serious hit.
A picket captain at the Hilton hotel in downtown Minneapolis told Socialist Action that they’d even heard that there had been instances of people getting sick from food cooked by scab labor.
As this is written, the situation on the picket lines remains upbeat. Vocal pickets are marching in front of the struck hotels 24 hours a day, and are eliciting a considerable amount of support from motorists and pedestrians walking by.
There has also been a healthy amount of support from other Twin Cities labor unions. This reporter joined picket lines that had members of the Screen Actors Guild marching to show their support (the Screen Actors Guild also has recently been involved in a conflict with employers).
The rallies called by the union have attracted strong community and student support, illustrating that the brave super-exploited hotel workers of the Twin Cities are not alone!
Socialist Action readers eager to know the outcome of this strike can find up-to-date information on the union’s website atwww.mtn.org/here17/.