Chicago Hotel Workers Call for City Law to Protect their Right to Return to Work When Guests Come Back to the City

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Marie Lourdie Pierre-Jacques

Proposed ordinance will ensure that hotel workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic, including older women workers, can return to their jobs once the guests return

Chicago hotel workers are calling for a City policy to protect their right to return to work when the business resumes in the city. The ‘Hotel Worker Right to Return to Work Ordinance’ will ensure that when guests return to Chicago hotels, hotel workers can return to the jobs they held pre-pandemic.

Marie Lourdie Pierre-Jacques worked at the Swissotel for 18 years. Like many people she believed her hard work and personal sacrifice for her employer would be reciprocated. Instead Pierre-Jacques received a phone call informing her she had been terminated. Pierre-Jacques shared her story with the Crusader in a statement printed below.

This effort to protect hotel workers comes as Chicago looks to gradually emerge from the pandemic, rolling out strategic vaccination plans that eventually would allow for travel to resume. The ‘Return to Work’ Ordinance would ensure that as the City recovers, the women of color who worked in the hotel industry, some for more than two decades, and were fired during the pandemic are not left behind.

“When I received the phone call saying that I was fired, I didn’t have any words. I began to cry but it didn’t matter to them. It feels like I am being thrown out like a bag of trash,” said Teresa Hernandez, a single mom of three who worked for Swissotel as a banquet server for 20 years. “I think about all the years of loyalty I gave to the company. All the sacrifices. All of the missed time with my children. I don’t deserve being treated this way. It’s not okay.”

“I am an older person. I am 60 years old. I raised seven children,” said Maria Delgado, a housekeeper who was fired from Marriott Magnificent Mile after 8 years with the hotel. “I don’t know if I can find another job. Please support working women and help us get our jobs and our dignity back. When the guests come back to the city, we deserve to come back to work.”

“No industry has been harder hit by the pandemic than the hospitality industry, and no one needs the hotel industry to recover more than the women of color who take care of the guests,” said Karen Kent, president of UNITE HERE Local 1. “These women have worked years, and often decades, at the same hotel. They deserve the right to come back to work when the guests come back.”

“Women Employed stands in solidarity with hotel workers who have lost their jobs due to the impacts of COVID-19,” said Cherita Ellens, president and CEO of Women Employed.  “These hard-working people, many of whom are Black and brown women supporting their families, have lost their livelihoods. It is vital that we protect their economic security and the well-being of their families and communities. Women Employed supports UNITE HERE Local 1’s proposed ordinance that protects hotel workers’ right to return to their jobs once hotels reopen.”

The hotel industry has been one of the most severely impacted sectors of Chicago’s economy since the COVID-19 pandemic began early last year. According to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, at least 62 Chicago hotels have laid off at least 13,000 employees, and many hotels remain closed.

In December of 2020 alone, the leisure and hospitality industry lost nearly half a million jobs with women accounting for a disproportionate share of those losses. The unemployment rate for women stands at 6.3 percent but there’s an even harsher reality for women of color – 8.4 percent of Black women are unemployed and that number is even higher for Latina women at 9.1 percent. Older women workers have a more difficult time finding employment: a 50-year-old woman is 29 percent less likely to receive a job interview for an administrative job than a 30-year-old woman, while a 65-year-old woman is 47 percent less likely.

The Hotel Worker Right to Return to Work Ordinance (O2020-5778) was introduced last November and has been assigned to the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development.

To learn more about UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents about 16,000 hospitality and food service workers in the City of Chicago and surrounding area, and the work they are doing to protect Chicago’s workforce during these unprecedented times, visit www.unitehere1.org.

Statement by Marie Lourdie Pierre-Jacques 18 years of service Banquet Server, Swissotel Chicago Lives in Bolingbrook, IL

My name is Marie Lourdie Pierre-Jacques. I’ve worked as a banquet server at the Swissotel for 18 years.

When I came to America from Haiti as a young woman, I began working as a bus person. I didn’t speak English very well. But over time I worked my way up to being a banquet server at the Swissotel. I loved my job. I gave it my whole heart. When the hotel would call me at 2 a.m. to cover for someone, I would go in. Sometimes I would stay at the hotel overnight for three days in a row so I wouldn’t be late for a shift.

When I was pregnant, people said to me – ‘you’re going to have that baby right here in the hotel’ because I worked right up to my due date. And after giving birth to my son, I was back at work 6 weeks later. And I did this because I thought if I worked hard and gave my all, the job would respect me back. I spent more time with my coworkers at the hotel than with my own family. I thought it would be worth it to be able to support my children and provide health insurance.

When I found out I was being fired, I couldn’t believe it. It is still difficult to talk about. After all these years, all the sacrifice. How could they do something like that?

The hotel told us we were a family. What kind of people treat their family this way?

I think about all the days and nights I missed with my children because I was at the hotel. I think about my son who I left with my sister when he was 6 weeks because I went back to work. For a long time, he thought my sister was his mother. It broke my heart every time he called her mommy. No one can understand that feeling unless you’ve been through it. I know I sacrificed that part of my relationship with my son because I thought the hotel would take care of me and my family.

But now, I am left with nothing. We have no health insurance. I have blood clots and my sons have asthma. I worry about what we will do if something happens to me or my kids. Working all the time put a lot of strain on my marriage and now it is falling apart. I’m so stressed, my hair falls out when I comb it.

And it is my children who see me crying, not the hotel. I don’t think they understand what we are going through. I fight for my children. If not for them, I would not want to wake up. But I do everything for my kids. Even though I feel scared, and I don’t know what will happen next, I have to keep going.

Thank you for taking the time to listen. I hope you will support this policy to help protect me and women like me.

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