Detroit City Council passes 'recall' resolution for laid-off hospitality workers — but Michigan law is in the way

May 4, 2021 at 3:28 pm
click to enlarge The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. - Shankar balaji /
Shankar balaji /
The Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.

On Tuesday, Detroit City Council passed a resolution in support of "right to recall" legislation that would guarantee hospitality workers laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic get rehired by seniority.

Similar ordinances were recently adopted in municipalities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. But in Michigan, any such move would be thwarted by HB 4052, aka the "Local Government Labor Regulatory Limitation Act," legislation signed under former Governor Rick Snyder that prohibits municipalities from adopting ordinances that impose requirements on employers, such as raising the minimum wage.

The way the law is written, it would prohibit the right to recall, too.

The news comes as Crain's Detroit Business reports that Michigan's travel industry is rebounding, including hotel occupancy more than doubling where it was a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic. But Sheila Washington, a banquet server at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center for 30 years, says she's still waiting to be called back into work more than a year later.

Washington says she was laid off in March 2020, and aside from being called back in to help for a wedding in October, she's been waiting to be rehired ever since, collecting unemployment.

"My preference is not to get another job, and to continue to work where I've been working for 30 years," she says. "I like what I do, and I liked the location. I like everything about my job."

She tells Metro Times that she was planning on retiring from the company.

"I'm not young," she says. "I don't have time to give to another business, and it takes time to rebuild what I've acquired there."

Now, UNITE HERE, the union representing hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada whose Local 24 represents more than 7,000 workers in metro Detroit, is calling for the right to recall in its negotiations with employers.

"Workers are anxious, and there's a lot of anxiety about whether or not they'll go back," Local 24 president Nia Winston tells Metro Times.

Winston says the right to recall is important in Detroit because hospitality workers like Washington helped make the city a world-class destination for tourists.

"The hospitality industry, in my opinion, is like the Renaissance of Detroit," Winston says. "Detroit has been through a lot. I think about the recession we've been through — we got over that, but then years later, Detroit was beautiful. I mean, you couldn't go downtown without seeing a nice hotel, or a nice restaurant with a nice bar."

Winston says she believes workers shouldn't lose everything they've worked for through no fault of their own, like a once-in-a-century pandemic. If they are rehired, it should be at the rates they were at when they were laid off.

"If the workers are not recalled, they're fired, and then they're replaced," she says. "You can't leave the workers out of the recovery."

Marriott, the union says, is doing particularly well. Last month, its stock price closed at $153.56 per share, surpassing its pre-pandemic peak of $150.78 in February 2020. And last year, the company grew its portfolio by 293 properties, or 42,360 rooms, with 498,000 rooms in development. The company posted $877 million in cash at the end of last year, and generated a positive net cash flow of $641 million. Last year, the company also awarded its executives and board members 66,638 shares in restricted stocks, worth $10.2 million total.

The company could not be reached for comment.

Detroit City Council says it will send a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and President Joe Biden urging them to take "urgent actions to support such Right to Recall relief, including but not limited to executive orders requiring such relief where permissible by law," according to the resolution.

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