Business

Diplomat Hotel Workers May Strike This Week Over Low Wages and Strained Working Conditions

Workers from the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood are prepared to strike this week if new contract demands are not met.
Workers from the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood are prepared to strike this week if new contract demands are not met. Photo by M.J. Leira, Unite Here Local 355
More than 400 workers from the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood Beach say they will go on strike this week if the hotel does not increase pay and improve working conditions in the new union contract.

"We are very far from standards that we believe the workers need in order to make a livable wage," Wendi Walsh, treasurer-secretary of the Unite Here Local 355 union, tells New Times.

Once the collective bargaining agreement expired on June 30, the union agreed to a two month extension. The union and Brookfield Asset Management, the owner of the hotel, missed the August 31 deadline to further extend the contract. Employees then voted in favor of a strike if negotiations continued to stall, as first reported by Axios.

Warning that workers are unable to keep up with rising inflation costs in South Florida, the union wants starting wages for non-tipped employees to increase to $17 an hour and $20 by the end of their contract. Walsh says the union came to a similar agreement with the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, which has 500 more rooms than the Diplomat.

Currently, housekeepers and other non-tipped workers at the Diplomat are making $13.95 an hour to start.

"We're not trying to get rich," Walsh adds. "We're just trying to get by. No one would say working for $13.95 an hour is a sustainable wage here in South Florida."

According to rental platform Zumper's 2022 National Rent Report, the median one-bedroom rent in Miami and Fort Lauderdale in August is $2,520 and $2,000 a month, respectively. The skyrocketing rents are forcing the hotel's workers to commute for as long as two hours in some cases.

"They really cannot afford to fall further and further behind the cost of living," Walsh says.

The Diplomat, which first opened in 1958, has a long history with labor unions. After the hotel fell into tough financial times in the early 1990s, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters used its pension fund to purchase and demolish the dilapidated building. After a $800 million renovation, the 1,000 room Diplomat Resort and Spa opened in 2002 and flourished as Broward County's largest hotel. Brookfield acquired the property in 2014 for $460 million.

When the hotel reopened from its 14-month pandemic hiatus in June 2021, management only brought back 450 of its 650 workers. During the pandemic, banquet server Harry East says, "the hotel did nothing" for the workers. They had to rely on the union for help.

"It's been a hard battle," East, who has worked at the hotel since 1985, tells New Times. "We wanted to get back to work and this company was not willing to open up."

Since reopening, the hotel has stopped offering daily housekeeping services. The understaffed housekeeping department is instead responsible for cleaning rooms upon checkout, which takes a toll on employees' bodies.

"They grind day in and day out to clean rooms that sometimes haven't been cleaned for three or four days," East says "You should see the look on the housekeepers' faces. They are totally exhausted."

The Diplomat's 200,000 square feet of convention space has made it a popular venue for conferences and corporate retreats. With the slowdown of in-person events because of the pandemic, however, many of the hotel's banquet servers have lost work hours and are forced to find side jobs serving at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel or the Westin in Fort Lauderdale.

Further thinning out available shifts, the Diplomat has not restored standard amenities, East says. Some of the hotel's indoor restaurant facilities remain closed and room service is no longer available.

"It's been really tough," East says. "I've been working anywhere between 15 and 20 hours a week. Prior to the pandemic, we were working 40 to 50 hours a week.”

Brookfield did not return New Times' request for comment.

According to Walsh, the Diplomat is exploring the possibility of replacing the unionized restaurant workers with subcontracted workers at lower wages.

"We are asking that these workers come back to the restaurants that are currently closed and those continue to be union jobs," Walsh asserts. "We cannot have a multi-billion dollar company trying to make a profit off of low wage workers who went through incredibly difficult times through the pandemic."

Negotiations between the parties are expected to resume on Monday. If an agreement does not materialize, the workers are poised to strike.
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Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein