PHILADELPHIA—Today, City Council’s Committee on Law & Government advanced the Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package that ensures over 12,000 hospitality sector workers can return to their jobs as their workplaces reopen, introduced by Councilmembers Helen Gym, Kenyatta Johnson and Isaiah Thomas. The committee heard testimony from impacted workers, faith-based organizers, employment experts and labor leaders voicing support for an economic recovery that protects the public health by retaining experienced workers at hotels, event centers and the airport. The bill now heads to the floor of Council for a full vote.
Philadelphia’s hospitality industry has been among the hardest hit by the economic impact of the COVID crisis, where employment is still down 38 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. No community has felt the consequences of this downturn more acutely than Black workers, who account for the bulk of Philadelphia’s tourism workforce. Black workers were disproportionately impacted by the “last hired, first fired” phenomenon after the last three recessions — the first to be laid-off and the last to be rehired.
The package contains three bills:
- 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.
Workers in Philadelphia’s hospitality industry are disproportionately Black and female – over-representing many of the same groups of people hardest hit by the pandemic. By passing the Black Workers Matter Economic Recovery Package, City Council could prevent discrimination in rehiring, stop predatory investors from replacing experienced workers, and prohibit retaliation by employers.
“This legislation is about protecting the jobs of those who, for decades, built our tourism economy—and will power it forward in years to come,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “The bill protects our City’s public health by ensuring the hospitality industry is staffed by the most experienced workers. It also protects our City’s economic health, through offering thousands of working-class Black and Brown Philadelphians family-sustaining jobs that were lost because of the pandemic. In Philadelphia, our most experienced workers will lead us to economic recovery.”
“All of the bills that were voted out of Committee by my City Council colleagues are common sense protections for workers in industries that have been devastated by COVID19,” said Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District). “Thousands of Philadelphians remain unemployed for months now and new layoffs seem to be happening daily as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. 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.”
Laid-off workers who depend on higher wages due to seniority testified about the stress of uncertainty, and the fear that they might permanently lose jobs that were stable and paid wages that supported their families. Labor and faith leaders urged City Council to ensure a fair recovery for some of the city’s most vulnerable workers.
“I’m very nervous about having to start over somewhere else at my age if they don’t call me back to work. I’ve invested 30 years of my life into that hotel,” said Stephanie Swain, a cook at the Warwick Hotel. “I want city council to pass this bill so that not only me, but everyone that has been laid off since the beginning of this pandemic, through no fault of their own, can have a sense of security and peace of mind knowing that when business picks back up we still have our jobs.”
“This legislation protects workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Rosslyn Wuchinich, President of Unite Here Local 274, which represents hospitality workers. “It protects workers who have been struggling for over eight months to survive financially. It makes sure that the baseline stability that so many hospitality workers have spent years working up to is not permanently robbed from them.”
“My co-workers and I get worried and ask, what if Aramark’s revenues don’t come back?” said Aisha Johnson, a maintenance worker for Aramark at Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park. “What if they walk away from their contract with the Eagles, or Phillies, or Flyers? What will happen to us? We need to be protected. We didn’t ask for this pandemic and we shouldn’t be penalized because of it. My 10 years working for Aramark should matter.”
Photo: Visit Philadelphia