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Baltimore City Council needs to protect hotel workers | COMMENTARY

Baltimore hospitality workers want first dibs on jobs lost during the pandemic once hotels start hiring again.
Baltimore hospitality workers want first dibs on jobs lost during the pandemic once hotels start hiring again. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

I have worked at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore since April 1997. Before the pandemic, I was doing well. But since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and hotels began losing business, I have been out of work. This crisis has been devastating to me.

The Baltimore City Council is currently considering a bill that could protect my right to return to my job: the COVID-19 Laid-Off Employees Right of Recall Bill. As hotels reopen and restore operations, the bill would require hotels to offer to rehire the same workers who were laid off as a result of the pandemic. It would not require hotels to bring back more employees than necessary. It would simply require that as they rehire, they start with their laid off workforce. We lost our jobs due to no fault of our own. So why shouldn’t we have the right to go back to our jobs once business returns? This is a common sense law. It is urgently needed to give us some stability in this crisis.

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Baltimore City has invested heavily in developing the hotel and tourism industry, especially in the Inner Harbor where I worked at the Hyatt. Our tax dollars subsidized development, with the promise of creating jobs. As hotel workers, we stepped up to be ambassadors for our city. We trained for our careers and improved our skills. We worked hard for years to make the industry run. In return, our jobs allowed us to be anchors of stability in Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

I live in East Baltimore and grew up in the Flag House Courts projects, which is now Albemarle Square. I went to culinary school to prepare for a job in the hospitality industry. I attended the Southeast Culinary Academy in Kissimmee, Florida, and completed an apprenticeship in Orlando. My first culinary job was at the hotels in Walt Disney World.

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Later, I moved my family back to Baltimore. I got hired as night cook at the Hyatt and then became a breakfast cook. My managers saw that I was hard working and dependable. Because of my hard work, I was able to transfer from cook to banquet server, a better paying position. I’ve been working in the banquets department for the last 18 years. During that time, I won the Maryland Hotel Lodging Association Food and Beverage Employee of the Year Award.

My job allowed me to support myself and my six children. My youngest son is now 22 and attending the University of Delaware. My job also allowed me to support a youth football team in the Bocek community in East Baltimore. I have coached youth football there for 15 years. Over those years I have spent many thousands of dollars of my personal money to provide football uniforms and equipment and allow the kids to play free without any fees.

I am not alone in this. Many of my co-workers in the hospitality industry have become the people their families and communities turn to when someone comes up short for school clothes or rent. We are proud to be able to support our families and neighborhoods. This is why Baltimore invested in the hospitality industry, not only with subsidies, but with job training and recruitment. It was an investment in making sure our residents had access to jobs that allowed them to support their families with dignity.

Now, we need our employers to honor Baltimore’s investment in them, and our city government needs to demand a return on its investment.

I’m 55 years old. After 23 years of hard work, I was so close to the finish line of retirement. Now, it feels like it’s all being taken away. The thought of having to start over at my age and find a new job is very tough.

I am not fighting only for myself. I am fighting for the many thousands of Baltimore hospitality workers who are also out of work. We know that it may be many more months until people are able to plan the large events our industry depends on. We are wondering what will come next for ourselves and our families. All we are asking, in the midst of this uncertainty, is for the right to go back to the jobs we have dedicated our lives to when that business does return. The Baltimore City Council has the chance to stand with us. I hope they make the right decision.

Ray Moore (redman1365@yahoo.com) worked at the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore before the pandemic.

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