Workers in the state’s hospitality industry — hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns — and their advocates have crafted a hospitality workers’ “bill of rights.”
Unionized hospitality workers and allies gathered August 20 in Austin for the first-ever Austin Hospitality Workers Summit, where they outlined a new bill of rights for Texas hospitality workers. Among those in attendance were Austin City Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Ann Kitchen, former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson (who’s running for mayor again), and former Austin Council Member Greg Casar (who’s seeking a congressional seat).
As of July, more than 1.4 million people worked in the state’s hospitality industry, up dramatically from a low of 850,000 in April 2020 at the outset of the pandemic.
The bill of rights lays out these priorities:
- Every worker will be treated with respect, have a voice on the job, and have the right to join a labor union.
- Every worker will earn a living wage.
- Every worker will enjoy access to good, affordable health care for themselves and their families.
- Every worker will have access to decent, affordable housing.
- Every worker will have access to affordable, reliable public transportation.
- Every worker will have equal treatment and opportunities, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
Aside from Fuentes, Kitchen, Watson, and Casar, officials who support the bill of rights include Austin Mayor Steve Adler and an array of other city, county, state, and federal officeholders from Austin, Houston, and elsewhere in Texas.
The summit was organized by a 10-city chapter of Unite Here, a labor union, and was held at the Hilton Austin hotel.
The bill of rights comes at a time when local hospitality workers are struggling to make ends meet. A 2021 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition noted that the hourly pay needed to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in the Austin metro area was $27.58, which Unite Here says is more than twice the median hourly pay for local hotel workers.
Unite Here member Cindy Gonzalez, a cafeteria worker at Google’s Austin office, says there was “an overwhelming sense of togetherness and solidarity” at the summit.
“To be surrounded by all these hospitality workers from different areas of Austin, coming together to discuss the rights we deserve, was empowering, and collectively, I know we can achieve all those things. We have a vision for the future, and as long as we keep making our voices be heard, we’ll get there,” Gonzalez says in a news release.
Unite Here is a member of the coalition that persuaded the Austin City Council to adopt a $22-an-hour minimum wage for City of Austin employees and contractors.