On May 17, 2011, the Obama administration announced the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian immigrants through January, 2013. This announcement followed months of lobbying by immigration groups and labor unions – including UNITE HERE. With so many Haitians affected by the earthquake in January 2010, this change brings an important protection for thousands of UNITE HERE members in Florida. More information is available at www.uscis.gov/tps.
On December 9, workers from Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino were joined by over 200 casino, hotel and airport workers and members of UNITE HERE Local 355. The members held an evening rally calling on Gulfstream to bargain a fair contract.
Despite the downturn in the economy, South Florida’s gaming industry is performing remarkably well. Revenues are up since new gaming regulations went into effect in July. Included in the new regulations: the reduction of slot taxes from 50% to 35%, high-limit poker and increased operating hours. “I’ve definitely seen more visitors coming in. Work is busier and people seem to be spending more – it’s a good sign,” said Thurman Lennon, a cook at Gulfstream and member of Local 355’s elected leadership.
Unfortunately, Gulfstream is proposing drastic cuts: a 12-month wage freeze, cuts in holiday pay and cuts in vacation time. In this economy, workers agree that these cuts would have a devastating effect on hundreds of South Florida families. Local 355 member and Gulfstream cook Miguel Lizarraga understands what is at stake: “We can’t go backwards, and that is what the company is proposing. We need to stand strong for a good contract; one that we can all be proud of.”
On May 11, hundreds of members of UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami, Florida, joined together with community leaders, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, and UNITE HERE International President John Wilhelm to commemorate the recent tragedy in Haiti and to stand up for economic security for Haitian-American workers. UNITE HERE members discussed the impact of the Haitian earthquake on their families and themselves, and called on South Florida’s employers to raise standards for all workers.
Following the earthquake in Haiti, Local 355 embarked on a fact-finding survey of Haitian-American members. The survey revealed that Haitian-American members of Local 355 send an average of almost 30 percent of their wages back to Haiti to support their families, and that they feel that improved wages and benefits would most help them to assist their families in Haiti. Members also identified federal immigration reform as a high priority, citing the need to reunify and stabilize their families.
Rolande Richardson, a Local 355 committee member and worker at Delaware North Companies at Ft. Lauderdale Airport, saw the survey results as a call to action: “The earthquake in Haiti was terrible, and many of my co-workers lost family members, but the reality is that we’re also struggling here in the U.S.” She added, “We send money to support our families, but we need to be able to support ourselves also. We need to get our churches and communities more active in the day to day struggles of all workers. Rebuilding our life here will help rebuild Haiti.”
To donate to help UNITE HERE members affected by the earthquake in Haiti, click here.