Hotel Workers Rally in Duluth

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DULUTH, Minn.-Between 400 and 500 workers rallied here on Aug. 20 in support of the struggle by hotel workers to organize. The protesters assembled at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, where the Minnesota AFL-CIO was holding its annual convention, and marched through Canal Park in the city’s tourist district.

Hundreds of tourists looked on as protesters and members of dozens of different unions chanted out calls for justice and solidarity with the underpaid and super-exploited workers that form the backbone of the region’s tourist economy.

The march ended in front of the Inn on Lake Superior, where a group of between 40 and 50 activists from the labor movement, the Community, Religion & Labor Network, the Greens, and Youth for Socialist Action proceeded to enter the hotel and occupy the lobby. Inside the hotel they staged a sit-in while Father Brian Schultz led a prayer calling for justice for hotel workers.

Outside, protesters heard speeches from several different people: Alan Netland of the Duluth Central Labor Body; Ray Waldron of the Minnesota AFL-CIO; Roger Moe, who is running for governor; Adam Ritscher, who works at the Inn as a housekeeper and who is a member of Youth for Socialist Action; and Carol Carlson, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 99.

The spirited rally was the largest action held on behalf of Canal Park hotel workers since HERE Local 99 began its organizing drive here in September 2001. It comes on the heels of a series of rallies and marches, as well as twice a week informational picket lines that the union has been organizing since Dec. 6.

Canal Park historically was an industrial and warehouse district in the port city of Duluth. The district has been completely revamped in recent years and turned into one of the Midwest’s most visited tourist destinations.

Millions of dollars of taxpayer money were given to the Canal Park developers, despite the fact that they included Duluth’s richest and most powerful families, like the Paluccis and Goldfines.

Once they got the money, the developers built expensive hotels for the well-to-do that are run by young workers who are grossly underpaid, almost totally uninsured, and often are unable to get enough hours, forcing them to work second, and even third jobs to make ends meet.

Given the decline in Duluth’s industrial sector, service industry jobs in these new hotels and restaurants are basically the only jobs available for young workers.

HERE Local 99 began its Canal Park organizing campaign after receiving phone calls from hotel workers regarding forming a union. Since the campaign began, the workers fighting for a union have received tremendous community and labor support. Still, the powerful owners of the Canal Park hotels have so far refused to sit down with the union. That is why actions like the march and hotel occupation on Aug. 20 are so important.

An example of the power of such actions is the boost in morale that this march gave workers inside the Inn on the Lake. Everyone was talking about it and many were quite thrilled by such a large outpouring of support from so many different unions.

HERE Local 99 has a boycott against all five of the Canal Park hotels. Volunteers are needed to help walk the picket lines and organize future actions. For more information, visit the union’s website, or call (218) 728-1720.

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