Laid Off Hospitality Workers Got Out the Vote for Florida’s Primary Elections

Miami, FL— In March, almost all of the 33,000 hospitality workers represented by UNITE HERE Florida were laid off due to COVID-19.  Most remain laid off five months later.  Over these months, Florida’s hourly workers were largely abandoned by their elected leaders, left struggling to access unemployment benefits and health insurance, and fearing for their lives as a few reentered the workplace.

In response, laid off hospitality workers have turned their attention to electoral politics to take back their power. UNITE HERE Florida housekeepers, cooks, servers, and dishwashers put in thousands of hours volunteering to turn out the vote. Denia Fernandez, cashier at Miami International Airport, said: “The County Commission, in the middle of a health crisis, cancelled proposal 11A11, rejecting paid sick days. This showed us that the Commissioners need to understand the power of our vote.”  Hear more from Denia here.

Yolette Lareus added, “I’ve been working as a cook at Calder Casino for 27 years. I’ve seen how Oliver Gilbert has fought for us to keep our jobs. On my own, I’ve raised my two 11 and 13-year-old daughters who need a prosperous future. Voting is the only way we can fix this situation. The same way Mayor Gilbert helped me as Mayor of Miami Gardens I know he’ll be able to do more in the County Commission of Miami-Dade.”

Workers supported candidates for the County Commission who have supported them. “Our members know that Commissioner Eileen Higgins passed a $3 million-dollar legislation that will provide financial relief to furloughed hotel workers. We backed Mayor Oliver Gilbert because he stood up for worker safety protections during this pandemic. Our members will never forget that Commissioner Keon Hardemon donated food vouchers to feed their families in their time of need. People are loyal to those who are loyal to them when it mattered most,” said Wendi Walsh, UNITE HERE Florida Political Director.

All three candidates supported by UNITE HERE Florida for Miami-Dade County Commission achieved solid victories. Commissioners Eileen Higgins and Keon Hardemon both came in first in their districts and will be on the ballot for November runoffs. In District 1 alone, hospitality workers had 6,989 phone conversations, dialed 259,244 phone numbers, visited 8,426 doors, and texted with tens of thousands more voters to deliver a victory for Oliver Gilbert.

For laid off hospitality workers, the primary was just the beginning.  UNITE HERE Florida members are signing up to volunteer in unprecedented numbers heading into November to vote out Donald Trump.

Press Contact: Wendi Walsh, [email protected]


UNITE HERE Florida is a labor union that represents over 33,000 workers in the hotel, casino, food service, and airport industries in Central and South Florida.