At the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, we believe that greater racial and gender equality is good for our families, our community, and our economy. In fact, much of our work lately is focused on improving jobs, pay and working conditions for employees in the service sector, which has a huge impact on women’s economic security.
Gender segregation in employment and wage discrimination are pronounced in these jobs; for example, U.S. Department of Labor statistics tell us that 88 percent of maids and housekeepers are women, at an average wage of $406 per week, while men make up 67 percent of janitors and building cleaners, at an average weekly wage of $517.
Unionization is one of the fastest routes to pay equity, and the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island strongly supports the rights of workers to organize. That is why I am inspired by the workers at The Procaccianti Group’s Renaissance Hotel.
We don’t have to look nationally to find examples of why unionization matters. Recent Census data shows that the typical hotel housekeeper in Providence is a Latina woman making under $25,000 per year; the most recent union hotel contract proposed to the Omni Providence specifies the lowest wage for housekeepers at $15.96 per hour, or more than $33,000 annually.
Workers at the Renaissance have said the hotel has always treated them poorly but complain that conditions took a turn for the worse when the Procaccianti Group took over in late 2012.
These workers — predominantly Dominican women — have been working to improve their workplace for years. They have cited high rates of injuries at the Procaccianti Group’s hotels and fought for safety improvements at their workplace. They have been working to organize a union, and have demanded their employer remain neutral on the question of unionization. Now these brave workers are calling for a union election with an employer that has a history of intimidating and harassing worker-leaders.
The workers at the Renaissance Hotel deserve a safe workplace, good health care, and livable wages. They deserve a shot to be on an equal footing with the rest of our workforce. But more than that, they deserve our support in their efforts to organize.
The Procaccianti Group should remain neutral during this election, and should commit to bargain in good faith with the workers. The Women’s Fund will stand in solidarity with the workers at the Renaissance until they succeed.
This article ran as an op-ed in the Providence Journal in Tuesday, November 10, 2015 –http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20151110/OPINION/151119964