Thursday, February 29, 2024

Colonial Williamsburg Hospitality Workers Protest Unfair Wages & Treatment

“We’re tired and overworked.” Colonial Williamsburg hospitality workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 25, and community allies protested for higher wages and better treatment Saturday. (WYDaily/Molly Feser)

WILLIAMSBURG — Hospitality workers at Colonial Williamsburg (CW) were making their voices heard on Saturday, Dec. 4.

A rally was held by hospitality workers in CW during the Grand Illumination celebration to protest long work weeks and unfair wages.

UNITE HERE Local 25, a Washington D.C.-based union that represents over 200 workers at Colonial Williamsburg, held the rally to emphasize poor working conditions and mandatory overtime.

Workers were joined by community allies as they marched on the northwest corner of S. England Street and Newport Avenue, calling for safer working conditions and an end to six and seven day work weeks.

“Because we’re worth it, and our families are worth it!” one protestor called. 

The union and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation have been in negotiations since the beginning of May.

The union is demanding a contract that puts an end to mandatory overtime and raises wages. (WYDaily/Molly Feser)

Now the workers are demanding a new contract that would bring higher wages and put an end to mandatory overtime that, what employees say, sees them working brutally long work weeks.

“You will no longer submit to unfair conditions and the injustices that exist in your workplace now,” John Boardman, the executive secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25, said to the crowd. “You will no longer submit to poverty wages, disrespect, work loads that break down your body, forced work that keeps you from family.”

Jim Overby, a CW hospitality worker of twenty-three years, said that conditions at CW have only worsened over the years.

“They’re making it hard for us to even be good for our guests because we’re so tired and overworked,” Overby said. “We’re just tired.”

The workers, covered by a contract that dates back to the 1960s, have not received raises in over three years, according to Boardman.

“They need to give us better pay, and they need to show appreciation, and they need to show us that they respect us as employees, and the management currently is just not doing that,” Overby said.

Dana Tomlin, CW’s chief of staff, said that the Foundation respects the workers’ first amendment right to assemble and peacefully protest and will continue to work with the union to complete negotiations.

Tomlin said that the company hopes to come to an agreement and give substantial wage increases to union employees as they were able to do for non-union employees in September.

According to the offer summary that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation issued to the union earlier this week, the Foundation has offered raises of up to 23.5 percent to union employees.

“We are trying to work together to negotiate a contract that offers meaningful pay raises,” Tomlin said. “We have agreed to many of the requests of the union, so we’re just hopeful that we can come to a conclusion soon.”

As negotiations currently stand, CW is offering that non-tipped employees receive a minimum of $15.50 per hour or a $2.95 an hour increase, while tipped employees would receive a minimum of $7.37 per hour or a $1.00 an hour increase.

Employees shared their stories Saturday, citing long work weeks and unsafe working conditions. (WYDaily/Molly Feser)

“We understand that some of you have worked a great deal of overtime, which we appreciate very much,” CW President and CEO Cliff Fleet said in the Dec. 3 offer. “We think the significantly higher wage rates mentioned above, along with our best in-class benefit package for the hospitality industry in the Williamsburg market will help us recruit new employees which will reduce the overtime burden.”

Kevin Crossett, spokesperson for CW, said that the company is willing to meet with the union at any time.

“We’re just looking forward to coming to an end to these negotiations so we can finally get them the raises for the holidays,” he said.

Linda Pusey has worked in CW for over twenty years. She said that the union has made progress, but there are still more changes to be made.

“We have not been appreciated the way we’re supposed to have been appreciated,” she said. “We are very behind.”

“I hope we get a fair and decent contract, our raises, our pension, our sick time, not a whole lot of over time so we can spend time with our family,” she added. “We love our jobs, but we want them to love and appreciate us for a change.”

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