Hotels that fire their workers must be held to account

Don’t patronize facilities that treat employees badly

WHEN MY FAMILY immigrated from Cabo Verde in West Africa, many of them got their first jobs in Boston’s hotels. My cousins Iva and Lucindo Brandao worked in the Colonnade Hotel in the Back Bay. She was a room attendant and he worked in the restaurant. They worked hard for many years, and shared what they earned with our extended family, creating better opportunities for all of us. For them, and for generations of Bostonians, the hospitality industry provided a doorway to the American Dream.

But right now, many Boston hotel workers are having that door slammed in their face. A growing number of hotels have been firing their employees so they can hire replacements at lower pay. Already, four Boston hotels have fired hundreds of their employees, some of whom had worked at their job for almost 20 years.

This week I’ve spoken to several Bostonians who were recently fired from their jobs at local hotels. Some of them had worked there for decades. They’re worried about paying their bills and providing for their children. Meanwhile, their former employers are bringing on new employees who will work for less, and gearing up for summertime visitors. This is wrong.

I’ve served as chief executive of organizations, and I understand the financial realities businesses have faced this year. But there’s a way to address budget shortfalls without causing so much pain. Firing these longtime workers is not only heartless; it’s shortsighted from a business standpoint.

Yes, the pandemic has hit our hospitality industry hard, but economists expect the tourism and hospitality industries to experience tremendous growth in the second half of this year. The hotels that treated their employees with dignity and retained them will thrive. When our economy opens up, those hotels will provide the best customer service because they have experienced, professional staff.

These firings also betray the community’s trust. As Boston’s Chief of Economic Development for the last seven years, I fought for working people and created career pathways to quality jobs with family-sustaining wages. I pushed hard to make Boston a world-class destination for tourism and large events. We invested millions of dollars to bolster the industry and to create thousands of good hospitality jobs for people right here in Boston’s neighborhoods. As a community, we cannot allow hotels, many of which are owned by out-of-state millionaires, to exploit the labor of hardworking people in our community, then pull the rug out from under them instead of finding other ways to tighten their belts.

Throughout the pandemic I’ve been engaging with the hospitality industry to understand the challenges and offer help from the city. And this week, I’ve been speaking with workers and management to ensure that workers are not taken advantage of. I’m hopeful that we can reach a fair and reasonable outcome. But I’m not taking that for granted, so I’m also taking further action.

I’m demanding that these hotels re-hire all of their former employees with their full seniority and benefits. Until they do, I will not attend any event held at any hotel that dismissed their employees so unfairly.

I’m also letting these hotels know that as mayor, I would not attend any events at these hotels, and I would instruct all city employees not to attend any either.

I’m encouraging all of Boston’s residents and visitors to support the hotels that are doing the right thing by pledging to re-hire all of their former employees. They have demonstrated that they deserve our support and would welcome our business.

I’m calling on the Boston City Council to not wait for the state to act before passing “right to recall” measures to protect our local workers, as several other cities across the country have done.

I’m also calling on the Massachusetts Legislature to immediately pass SD.1573, the so-called hospitality comeback bill that will protect hotel workers. I’d like to thank Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge and Sen. Joseph Boncore of Winthrop for their leadership on Beacon Hill.

As mayor, I would also conduct a thorough review of any tax and lease agreements the city has with these bad actors in the hotel industry. I would create firm guidelines going forward to prevent this outrageous behavior from ever happening again, and establish new standards for city spending at local hotels. We should do more to support the hotels that treat their workers with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Meet the Author

John Barros

Candidate for mayor, City of Boston
It’s simply outrageous that right now, just as our city is opening up, any hotel would fire longtime staff who helped them survive the COVID crisis. As a city, we can and we must hold these businesses to a higher standard. The working people of Boston depend on it, our economy depends on it, and our strong recovery from the COVID crisis depends on it. I ask the entire Boston community to join me in speaking up for Boston’s hardworking hotel workers.

John Barros is a candidate for mayor of Boston, He previously served as a community organizer, executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, a small business owner, and seven years as Boston’s first chief of economic development.