The American Hotel & Lodging Association and Unite Here, the union for hospitality workers, are calling on Congress to pass new legislation that directly supports the devastated labor force of the hotel industry. The new Save Hotel Jobs Act, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), aims to provide a lifeline to the workers themselves.
The hospitality industry workforce has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with a loss of 3.1 million jobs that have yet to return. The unemployment rate in the accommodations sector remains 330 percent higher than the rest of the economy, according to the AHLA.
"At one point, 98 percent of the people we represent, in hotels and casinos and food service, were out of work," Unite Here president D. Taylor said Wednesday in a virtual press conference. "Even today, that number is between 60 and 70 percent, including either unemployment or underemployment."
Analysts project the industry won't recover to 2019 levels until the end of 2023, despite a recent surge in bookings.
"There has been an uptick in leisure travel," acknowledged Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the AHLA. "That is wonderful news for an industry that is hanging on by a thread for more than 14 months now. But the reality is that even under the best of circumstances, with people expressing their pent-up demand to get out and enjoy a vacation — even under those circumstances — this industry cannot survive on leisure travel alone. We must have business travel return at some point, so that we can create more jobs."
The new legislation would help until that occurs, noted Taylor. "This is a way to have a bridge, so folks can get paid, have jobs, and pray for business travel to return," he said. "One-hundred percent of the funds provided to the hotels will be about payroll and jobs."
The legislation includes key provisions that support hotel workers, such as direct payroll grants that would be used for benefits expenses. Grant recipients would be required to give laid-off workers recall rights, to ensure that those who lost their jobs can get back to work.
Also included are tax credits for personal-protective equipment and technology designed to reduce the impact of the pandemic, both of which promote worker-safety measures.
"This targets the workers, many of whom are people of color, who have been significantly more impacted by the pandemic in our society, unfortunately," said Rep. Crist. "This is nonpartisan. Jobs are held by all Americans, and this opportunity to make a difference at this time is a rare and unique moment for all of us."
That the AHLA and Unite Here have joined forces to promote the legislation is unique in itself, given the sometimes contentious owner/worker negotiations that have occurred between them.
"There is not an ounce of daylight between us and our union on supporting hotel workers," said Rogers. "We are all 100 percent united on this and this is why this legislation is so important."