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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Service industry workers rally Sept. 16 for better wages, fair scheduling

Posted By on Wed, Sep 13, 2017 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge BRIAN SOLIS / CREATIVE COMMONS 2.0

At a "Rally for Our Rights" Saturday, New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee (NOHWC) and supporters will convene to demand paid sick days, better wages, more equitable scheduling and other benefits for workers in the city's booming hospitality and tourism industry.

Organizers ask participants to wear aprons, chef pants and other service industry accessories to the rally, where speakers will share stories about mistreatment and retaliation in the workplace. They'll also talk about local organizing efforts, including an attempt to organize a Bywater restaurant that ended in conflict with restaurant ownership, NOHWC member Lita Farquhar says.

"There's such retaliation when you try to do anything at your job that people are just, like, really scared," she says. "We generate all this money, but ... we don't really get to see anything for all our hard work."

Since forming earlier this year as an offshoot of the People's Assembly advocacy group, NOHWC has worked to create a hospitality worker's bill of rights. The statement includes demands for a $15 minimum wage, access to health care and protection from common industry maladies such as sexual harassment. Other committee activities have included leaning on New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to make public transportation more accessible for service industry workers. "We did have some small victories with the RTA, but it's nowhere near where it needs to be," Farquhar says.

The committee also just passed a 1,000 signature milestone in support of its Work Week Ordinance, which Farquhar says has been adopted in some form by several other cities, including New York City. It's a set of 10 municipal labor laws intended to stop controversial scheduling practices such as "clopening" (a back-to-back close-to-open shift). It also would require workers' schedules to be posted at least two weeks in advance. (Last-minute scheduling is a common complaint in the industry, and can be perilous for workers who need to arrange transportation or schedule child care.)

"The place I was working at for six, seven months, I would get my schedule Sunday night, probably around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., and I might have to be there at 10 a.m. the next day," Farquhar says. "[The ordinance] is really to give us more control over our schedule."

NOHWC plans to present the ordinance to the mayor-elect and new City Council members after this fall's municipal elections, along with a proposal to fine employers who violate its terms.

With this rally, the committee hopes to call more attention to these types of issues and begin to establish itself as a force to adjudicate problems, such as wage theft, for the city's thousands of service workers — and to persuade those same workers that change in the industry is possible.

"I think people also are hesitant to believe that things things will actually come about. ... Then there are a lot of people who are really excited about it and think it's really important," Farquhar says.

The rally features a brass band and takes place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 16 at Washington Square in Faubourg Marigny. There's also an open NOHWC organizing meeting Sept. 25 at 1418 N. Claiborne Ave. at 7:30 p.m. Anyone who currently is working in the service industry is welcome to attend.

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