SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Over 50 union representatives, ministers, community leaders and local elected officials met here Aug. 9 to begin organizing local support for Unite Here and its Hotel Workers Rising campaign.

Half the recent increase in U.S. service jobs is in hotel maintenance in hotels owned by large national and international companies. Many hotel workers are immigrants, without a voice except through the union, the community leaders were told.

Most Unite Here union contracts expire in 2006. The union plans to negotiate new contracts and also wants to organize workers in nonunion hotels. Union labor gets paid at least twice what nonunion hotel workers receive.

Hotel workers described to the audience the physical drudgery and speedup they endure. Christine Troughton, a cook at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento, told of lifting heavy pots and 50-pound sacks of onions or potatoes. She needs surgery and therapy for her shoulders, but can’t afford it, so she takes Tylenol or Motrin to keep going. “I have to get my paycheck to pay my bills, so I keep working through the pain,” she said.

Eva Tuaggi has worked for 16 years as a hotel maid, earning $8.50 an hour. With a sick husband, she pays $156 every two weeks for health insurance. In an 8-hour shift she is required to clean 16 messy rooms, including making luxury beds with heavy mattresses, thick covers and several pillows. “Many people clock out at the end of the day and then go back to finish their rooms on their own time,” she told the audience.

The hotel workers’ struggle requires them to confront international companies on a national level, said Vivian Rothstein, deputy director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. “All of us need an economic and social justice movement,” she told the meeting. Through the process of confronting poverty, clergy and communities can strengthen their own organizations, while helping to rebuild the labor movement, she said.

“The Hotel Workers Rising campaign is fundamentally about raising the working poor out of poverty,” said Sherry Chiesa, Unite Here international vice president. “What the auto workers union did in the private sector in the last century is what we have to do for the service sector now,” she said.