NoVA Hotel Workers Speak Out

IMG_3426.jpg“This is a community committed to justice,” Chris Zimmerman of the Arlington County Board of Supervisors told a packed room at the Doubletree Crystal City Hotel last Saturday night. More than 100 people turned out for the Community Commission on Worker Justice, to listen to the stories of hotel workers at the Sheraton Crystal City, who are asking their hotel for a free and fair process to form a union. rnrn“I see my co-workers being worn down for a salary that isn’t enough,” explained Elizabeth Medina, a banquet server who’s worked for 14 years at the Sheraton. Overwork was a common theme of the night. Engineer Ferdi Lazo told of how when he started there were six people in his department, but today there are only two. The result, said Lazo, is that the hotel requires them to work too many hours, leaving him without enough time to spend with his two children. Nancy Ramirez, a housekeeper, shared alarming statistics about the health and safety of hotel workers. Ninety percent of hotel workers have suffered injuries caused by the strenuous nature of their work, which includes heavy lifting and carrying and exposure to chemicals. Twenty percent of female hotel workers at the Sheraton have had miscarriages while on the job. “Thank God the union has come,” Ramirez said, “because now we can struggle together to change things.” rnrnA board of community leaders listened to the workers’ testimony, including Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman from the Arlington County Board of Supervisors, Rev. Dr. Verne Arens of Little River UCC, Tram Nguyen of Virginians for a New Majority, and Dan Choi of the Virginia Justice Center. Jean-Louis Ikambana, Director of the AFSC-DC Peace and Justice Program and DC JwJ Executive Committee member, offered words of solidarity as well. “We support you in your struggle for dignity and respect,” Ikambana said. “What you’re fighting for is your human rights.” Benjamin Ordonez, a leader in the Union de Trabajadores, also offered words of support and led a chant of “si se puede.”rnrnAlso present were students and faculty from schools with investments in the Sheraton Crystal City’s parent company, HEI. Students are organizing through the Student Labor Action Project and United Students Against Sweatshops to pressure influence their universities to put pressure on HEI. “There’s no way I can go back and not fight,” said Natalie Kelly of the University of Pennsylvania. “HEI has no idea what they’re up against.”rn

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