At DoubleTree, workers fight for "better Florida"

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Over 500 Unite Here members, brothers and sisters from other unions, and community allies rallied here June 13 outside Orlando's only union hotel, to present their visions for a better Florida.

The event, organized by Unite Here Locals 362 and 737, was the culmination of a project in which 5,000 workers filled out cards on which they expressed their ideas for what needs to be done to make the Sunshine State work for working people. The two locals represent 19,000 hospitality and tourism workers in central Florida, and include a high percentage of Haitian and Latino immigrants and African Americans.

According to the union, "With Florida ranked among the highest in the U.S. with home foreclosures, among the lowest in education, [and] ranked at the bottom in public transportation, our state is in desperate need for a new direction and new leadership.

"With all of the challenges facing Florida, it ranks among one of the wealthiest states in the country next to one of the highest poverty rates. The workers in the hospitality industry have solutions to fix these problems and will be fighting for a better Florida."

The workers' solutions include quality public education for young people and affordable tuition for older workers who want to continue their educations, good jobs with living wages, affordable housing, rights for immigrants, the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons, and access to good, affordable public transportation.

The workers, many in red Unite Here T-shirts, paraded in front of the Hilton DoubleTree hotel, holding signs that said, "Fighting for a Better Florida," while others drummed, and chants such as "Up up with the workers! Yeah! Yeah! / Down, down with the bosses! Boo! Boo!" and "Hey hey, what you say / Unite Here is here to stay!" filled the air.

"We chose to be here today in front of the DoubleTree to support the brave and courageous workers who are fighting Blackstone, one of the biggest and greediest hotel corporations in the world," said Judith Pascuale of Local 737.

The DoubleTree workers are in the midst of what the union calls "difficult" contract negotiations with Hilton Worldwide, a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group, a financial services company. Blackstone's net income was more than $1.4 billion in 2010.

Travis Joyner, a Local 362 executive board member and a shop steward at a Walt Disney World restaurant, told the crowd that his "dream is to be able to live a life where I make enough to be able to live."

"Corporations, not only here but across the nation, are posting record profits," he said. "They make those profits on the backs of the workers."

"Executives are paid six-, seven-, and even eight-digit salaries because companies say their visions are why the companies are doing so well," he said. "We know that's a load of crap."

"They might have a vision," he added, "but without us, the workers, to realize their vision, they are just dreamers. We are just as important to these companies as the executives who run them."

Chrysanthemum Ashley, a member of community allies Organize Now! said her vision of a better Florida includes earned sick time.

"No one should have to lose their job for taking care of their family," she said.

Ashley related how, as a seasonal worker at a local business, she had lost her chance for a permanent part-time job after being written up for missing three days of work when her son was hospitalized.

"All because I was being a mother to my child," she said.

Citizens for a Greater Orange County are working to collect 45,000 voter signatures by the end of June to put an earned sick time initiative on the November ballot. If the measures passes, companies with 15 or more workers would be required to provide employees one hour of paid sick time for every 37 hours worked, up to a maximum of seven days (56 hours) per year.

Other groups and unions with a presence at the rally included the Student Labor Action Project at the University of Central Florida, Central Florida Jobs With Justice, SEIU, UFCW, IATSE and AFSCME. State Rep.-elect Victor Torres, D-Orlando, who is an Amalgamated Transit Union member, also attended.

Caption: Workers march outside Orlando's DoubleTree hotel, June 13.   Frederick Barr/PW

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