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Low-Wage Workers Want Respect, Regular Shifts And Better Wages

Between monthly meetings at an old church, they stay in touch on Facebook, bonded together by common struggles.

At work, they keep their heads down, grappling with retaliatory managers who cut their hours for slight infractions like needing to pick up a sick child from school. They deal with customers who proposition them sexually, with coworkers who demean and belittle them.

They call themselves the Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee, after the civil rights leader. They number about 100.

They are low-wage workers in Kansas City, employed by America’s favorite fast food franchises and sit-down restaurants, as well as by daycare centers and home healthcare providers.

If you think the fight for raising the minimum wage is simply about paychecks, let these women educate you. They’re vulnerable and they know it. Beyond higher pay, they seek dignity.

The career gripes of the average middle-class woman don’t hold a candle to what these ladies face daily. Their workplace stories are a catalogue of routine disregard of basic employment law. Sexual harassment is the most egregious, but there are other indignities, such as the mother who got hassled about wanting to leave work when her child had to go to the hospital.

The committee’s meetings are a bit covert. The members, after all, need to keep their jobs and are highly vulnerable to the whims of the managers they are organizing to resist. They’re working to build support among employees at stores so that if any employee presses a grievance she will have allies. The women envision eventually having a union.

They all aspire to “really good jobs” — such as work in warehouses, where full-time slots and benefits like paid time off, maternity leave and even a regular schedule can be found. But they say they don’t usually qualify for those positions.

Why not? Because mostly they have high school educations and no trade training. Many are from families of multi-generational poverty and unstable family networks. They were born into these situations, and it’s very hard to escape. Desire to work hard does not do the trick.

They say they are routinely hired at lower wages than men with similar experience and education levels. And the men tend to be the ones given the chances to advance.

Data bears out the frustration these women feel. Women make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million low-wage workers in America, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which defines low-wage work as that earning $10.10 or less. A 2014 study of the center found that women in such positions, working full time, have a 13 percent wage gap with men — higher for minority women.

This has dire consequences for the future of the economy and family stability — especially given that low-wage jobs are the ones have returned in higher numbers in the post-recession economy.

Sexual harassment is pervasive and well-documented. A study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United found that significant number of women feared “financial loss, public humiliation or job termination if they tried to report sexual harassment from management and customers.”

One recent meeting of the Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee focused on that reality. Groping of their bodies and outright solicitations for sex acts, things that would send white-collar women running to human resources, are brushed aside by low-wage employers.

“They definitely take advantage,” one woman said of supervisors. They hold incredible power over the women simply by controlling when they are scheduled to work and how many hours they can get.

Another woman eloquently made the argument that raising their wages and ensuring schedules with regular hours would ultimately aid society.

“I promise you, we’d be better parents,” she said, detailing how it would mean to be able to stick to a set a schedule and avoid shuffling kids between friends and relatives with ever-changing work shifts, not to mention having a larger financial cushion.

A handful of the committee’s members recently returned from a five-day training session in Chicago, the Midwest School for Women Workers.

There they learned about historic labor movements, employment law and labor standards. But what impressed them the most, was learning from female labor rights leaders from Mexico and Turkey.

“I encourage you to use whatever struggles you are a part of and let it make you stronger every day,” one of the labor activists encouraged the larger group.

The women of the Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee take solace in the fact that they are not being targeted by government officials or being beaten or disappeared, threats the foreign organizers faced.

But their lives are grim enough, and middle-class America, stressed as it is, owes it to them to guarantee conditions where all can work with dignity and financial security.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

(c) 2016, THE KANSAS CITY STAR. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC

Photo: Tracy Duve serves nachos at Tony’s I-75 Restaurant in Birch Run, Michigan, October 15, 2006.   REUTERS/Molly Riley

Hotel Giants Are Targeting Tech-Savvy Millennial Travelers

By Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

At the latest breed of hotel, rooms are up to one-third smaller than traditional quarters, with furniture that looks fresh from an Ikea showroom.

The work desk is downsized and might double as a nightstand. The Internet speed is super fast. The Wi-Fi is free. Power outlets and USB ports dot the walls, especially near the bed to accommodate binge watching.

The target is the millennial traveler, ages 18 to 34, who likes to stay connected online, eat on the run, and commune with other millennials.

Hotel giants, including Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide, are launching brands with names such as Moxy, AC, Edition, CitizenM, and Canopy. Even billionaire Sir Richard Branson has a new millennial-oriented chain, dubbed Virgin Hotels.

For good reason: Millennials number more than 75 million in the U.S., and this year the Census Bureau projects they will surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest generation.

Plus, they have money to blow. U.S. millennials plan to spend about $226 billion this year on travel, according to a Harris Poll survey.

“I think it’s definitely a smart move,” said hotel consultant Alan Reay of Atlas Hospitality Group in Costa Mesa, California “It’s a huge market.”

Creating a millennial hotel means tossing out some traditional features, such as the talkative concierge or soothing fountain.

Full-service restaurants are usually nixed in favor of healthy food-to-go choices in the lobby.

Business centers are swapped out for spacious gathering areas with communal tables, couches, and comfy chairs — sort of a hipper version of the parental home that millennials might still be inhabiting.

The front desk check-in might be replaced by a kiosk transaction, as at the podlike Yotel inn near New York’s Times Square or Starwood Hotels’ Aloft chain, which is slated to open a location in August near Los Angeles International Airport.

“I don’t spend lots of time in my room,” said Erin Schrode, 23, co-founder of a nonprofit environmental education program in Sausalito, California “If the room is small and the lobby is comfortable and there are niches and corners to work in, I’m great. We are a communal people.”

What the hotels lose in luxury they make up for with technology, including keyless room entry for some hotels and smartphone apps that let guests adjust the room temperature or make restaurant reservations without talking to a human.

At the Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California, not far from Apple’s headquarters, a three-foot-tall robot delivers snacks or other small items to guest rooms. The Apple Watch will be able to handle check-in at certain Aloft hotels.

The Yotel New York employs a one-armed robot to ferry luggage into storage lockers, all behind glass. At the nearby CitizenM hotel, each room comes equipped with a Samsung tablet to control lighting, curtains, and other features.

“The new traveling generation has a different DNA than their parents and grandparents,” said Harry Wheeler, a principal at hotel design firm Group One Partners.

Daria Taylor, 26, welcomes the new hotel style. Taylor said she travels regularly for her job as co-founder of a London-based digital entertainment and youth insights agency.

“I think hotels are very slow at adapting to change,” she said. “Many have outdated designs, stuffy communal areas and don’t have basic things like Wi-Fi or automated check-in systems.”

For Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, 28, convenience is a top priority.

“I don’t want to stand in line to check in,” said the founder of a Los Angeles travel start-up who is on the road at least twice a month. “I would rather have mobile check-in so I can get right to my room.”

As for room size, she quipped: “You can put me in a closet; as long as there is Wi-Fi, I’ll be happy.”

Millennials say they don’t want to spend on frills but insist on modern amenities and a location within walking distance of bars, restaurants, and other nightlife.

The rates for millennial-oriented hotels typically range from $150 to $200 a night, less than full-service hotels but not as cheap as economy hotels, consultant Reay said.

The minimalist CitizenM boasts on its website that “we sold the hotel cliches and used the money to make your stay cheaper,” with rooms starting at $199 a night.

The 230-room hotel, which opened last year, also houses a 24-hour cafeteria, as well as a full-service coffee and cocktail bar.

Marriott International is launching three hotel brands for millennials in the U.S.

Moxy is Marriott’s mid-price boutique hotel that is set to open in eight locations in the U.S., including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans, starting as early as next year.

AC is Marriott’s European-style brand that has opened U.S. hotels in New Orleans and Kansas City, Mo., with a third slated to open in Washington, D.C., next month.

Edition is Marriott’s high-end brand that opened its first U.S. hotel in Miami Beach last year, with another scheduled to open in New York this year.

“They center around social media and technology with an emphasis on style and design,” said Tina Edmundson, Marriott’s global officer for luxury and lifestyle brands.

Montage Hotels & Resorts, based in Laguna Beach, California, plans to open its own millennial hotel, called Pendry, in San Diego next year. The company describes the new brand as “London hip, New York paced, and California healthy.”

Billionaire entrepreneur Branson launched Virgin Hotels last year in Chicago. He has announced plans to open a Virgin Hotel in New York next year, with others under consideration in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and several other cities.

The Virgin Hotel in Chicago features rooms with sliding doors that separate the bedroom from the bathroom, hallway, and closet. The rooms have mini fridges stocked with snacks at street prices, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and a Bluetooth sound system.

Even budget hotel chains are targeting millennials.

Red Roof Inn estimates that about 12 percent of its guests are millennials, up from 9.5 percent in 2010.

To draw more young travelers, Red Roof President Andrew Alexander said, his company is testing outdoor gathering spots with fire pits and picnic areas at hotels in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida.

“We want our overall occupancy to outpace our competitors,” he said, “and the millennials will be a big part of that.”

Photo: Frank Tasche via Flickr