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Historic lawsuit settled for hotel workers

Elvia Bahena

December 12, 2012

Hotels cut ties with subcontractor after allegations of wage and hour violations

At a press conference outside the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis today, December 12, hotel workers are announcing that they have settled the lawsuit that they filed in federal court this past January. The hotel workers will be joined by city councilors and community allies. This landmark lawsuit was the broadest wage and hour case in the history of the Indianapolis hospitality industry. The 16 plaintiffs alleged that the subcontractor, Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), and 9 area hotels regularly failed to pay them for all the hours they worked and forced them to work off the clock and without breaks. The lawsuit resulted not only in a settlement for plaintiffs but also significant changes in the Indianapolis hotel industry. Multiple area hotels severed ties with HSS, including the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Marriott, the JW Marriott and the Conrad. Because plaintiffs signed a confidentiality agreement, the terms of the settlement are not available.

Elvia Bahena, the former subcontracted Hyatt housekeeper who was fired after testifying in front of City Council, is among the plaintiffs. This past summer, Bahena spoke out publicly about abuses she had experienced while working in Indianapolis hotels. She voiced support for the “Freedom to Work” anti-blacklisting ordinance. Two weeks later, she was fired from her position at the Hyatt where she worked for the subcontractor, United Maintenance. After significant public outcry, however, Hyatt terminated its contract with United Maintenance as well.

“I am so proud to be a part of this group of workers standing up for our rights. Today represents huge victory for us because HSS no longer operates in a number of hotels. We are showing Indianapolis that despite the obstacles and fear, change is possible when we stand together with the support of the community,” says Bahena.

Indianapolis city government has invested over one billion dollars of taxpayer money in the downtown hospitality industry with the hopes of rebuilding the area economy. A recent study found that tourism generated nearly $4 billion for the city last year.  Says Brian Mahern, Vice President of Indianapolis City-County Council: “For more than 30 years, our community has actively encouraged and promoted the hospitality industry by subsidizing hotels with public money. The time is long overdue for those efforts to finally produce good paying jobs that respect workers’ rights. This settlement marks an important step towards that goal.”

The settlement is the latest in a string of positive outcomes for hotel and food service workers in Indianapolis. Last fall, workers at IUPUI cafeteria joined airport food service workers in winning union recognition and a contract. Hospitality workers have garnered wide-spread community and political support for their organizing efforts.

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