The Right to Return legislation would ensure the industry is staffed by experienced personnel best able to protect the public health
PHILADELPHIA—Today, legislation establishing a Right to Return for hospitality industry workers was announced by City Councilmembers Helen Gym (At Large), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), and Isaiah Thomas (At Large). The legislation, which will be introduced tomorrow, ensures that hospitality workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic can return to their jobs as the industry reopens. By extending a Right to Return through the end of the public health emergency, the City could prevent discrimination in rehiring, stop predatory investors from replacing experienced workers, and prohibit retaliation by employers.
As the economy recovers, the industry is most capable of protecting the public health if it rehires the most experienced workers as jobs reopen. Of the 7.5 million leisure and hospitality jobs eliminated in April, only half have thus far been added back. As of September, the national unemployment rate among leisure and hospitality employees was 19 percent, the highest level of all industries measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and more than double the economy-wide average.
Councilmember Gym’s bill requires hotels, the airport, and event centers to offer jobs back to previous workers, who lost their jobs because of COVID-19, based on seniority.
Councilmember Johnson’s bill amends an existing law to ensure that seasonal workers at the sports complex, and food service workers at the Philadelphia International Airport, are not replaced in the event that a new contractor takes over services at their workplace.
- Councilmember Thomas’ bill protects workers’ jobs in the event that a hotel is sold or goes through foreclosure.
In Philadelphia, employment in the industry suffered the largest decline of 53 percent, in the latest data available. These workers are disproportionately Black and female – over-representing many of the same groups of people hardest hit by the pandemic.
“This Right to Return legislation secures economic justice for thousands of Philadelphia’s workers in the hospitality industry,” said Councilmember Gym (At-Large). “As our economy reopens, it must be our top priority to protect the jobs of thousands of working class Black and Brown Philadelphians that their families depend on. Studies have shown that Black workers are often first fired, and last hired. That will not stand in our City. We can build an economic recovery that starts with the wellbeing of workers and their families.”
“The three bills being introduced by my Council colleagues are common sense protections for workers in industries that have been devastated by COVID19,” said Councilmember Johnson (2nd District). “The Second Council District includes many of Philadelphia’s hotels, the Philadelphia International Airport and the Stadium Complex. All Philadelphia hotels are experiencing lower than normal occupancy rates. Sports stadiums have not been able to have fans attend events for months and thousands of people have been laid off at the Airport. We owe it to our working families in Philadelphia to make sure that they have an opportunity to be treated fairly by employers as the economy slowly reopens.”
“This pandemic has hurt our local and national economy with many industries looking at months if not years of financial hardship – the hospitality industry being one of the most economically impacted sectors,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “These revenue shortfalls have caused historic rates of furloughs and unemployment, seen most common in Black women, as they make up much of this industry’s labor force. As the hotel industry makes changes to recoup their losses and reimagine how they do business, Philadelphia is here to support but also here to protect these workers. Our legislation would ensure that workers may keep their jobs, regardless of how the industry restructures because a safe and experienced workforce is good for the hotel industry, it’s good for the labor force and most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”
More than 70 percent of Philadelphia hotel employees are people of color, and the majority of this workforce are women. The racial disparity in the city’s hospitality industry unemployment impact is reflective of a national trend in which the loss of jobs among Black workers since the beginning of the crisis has outpaced that for white workers. Data from past recessions show that Black workers suffer from the “first fired, last hired” phenomenon, with their unemployment rate rising earlier and remaining elevated for longer. Many workers’ seniority affords them relatively high levels of pay uncommon in the service sector.
“I have had the same job for almost my entire adult life – 30 years cooking at the Warwick Hotel in Center City Philadelphia,” said Stephannia Swain. “To go somewhere new and start at minimum wage, I would not be able to pay my bills or support my daughter or three grandchildren.”
“Many hotel workers are middle-aged Black Philadelphians,” said Rosslyn Wuchinich, President of UNITE HERE Local 274, the union representing hospitality workers in the City. “As a result of racial and age discrimination in hiring, they will find it very difficult to find a new job. The economic stability of their families and their community depends on their ability to return to their workplaces when they reopen.”
Councilmember Gym’s bill is cosponsored by Councilmembers Johnson (2nd District), Thomas (At Large), Henon (6th District), Gauthier (3rd District), Squilla (1st District), Jones, Jr. (4th District), Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), Parker (9th District), Brooks (At Large), and Gilmore Richardson (At Large).
Councilmember Johnson’s bill is cosponsored by Councilmembers Gym (At-Large), Thomas (At Large), Henon (6th District), Gauthier (3rd District), Squilla (1st District), Jones, Jr. (4th District), Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), Parker (9th District), Clarke (5th District), Brooks (At Large), and Gilmore Richardson (At Large).
Councilmember Thomas’ bill is cosponsored by Councilmembers Gym (At-Large), Johnson (2nd District), Henon (6th District), Gauthier (3rd District), Squilla (1st District), Jones, Jr. (4th District), Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), Parker (9th District), Clarke (5th District), Brooks (At Large), and Gilmore Richardson (At Large).
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Photo: C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia, used by permission.