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Hospitality workers rally for higher wages, better conditions in Colonial Williamsburg

Hotel and restaurant workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 25 demonstrated Saturday, days after the current labor contract expired on Nov. 30.

Hotel and restaurant workers in Colonial Williamsburg, a key part of the area’s economy, are calling for better pay and working conditions. 

About 100 hospitality employees held a demonstration on S. England St. and Newport Ave. on Saturday.  

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the labor union are in contract negotiations, after the current contract ended on Nov. 30. 

UNITE HERE Local 25, a Washington D.C. based union representing more than 200 hospitality employees in Colonial Williamsburg, is calling for higher wages, affordable healthcare, an end to mandatory overtime and more time to spend with family.

“We still aren’t making enough money to take care of our families, barely,” said Linda Pusey, who has worked in the area's hospitality industry for more than 30 years. 

Pusey hasn't had a raise in over 5 years, she says.

She’s one of many restaurant and hotel workers who rallied and marched during one of the areas most popular events, the Grand Illumination.  

"Because they have been overworked for a long period of time, even before the pandemic," said Pusey.  

John Boardman, executive secretary treasurer of LOCAL 25, says workers are consistently scheduled for six and seven day work weeks, which was "exacerbated" during the pandemic.  

"What we’re saying is there has to be a balance between work and life," said Boardman.  

Dana Tomlin, Chief of Staff for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, said negotiations have been going on since May and they are eager to reach a deal prior to the holidays. 

"Colonial Williamsburg is dedicated to providing meaningful raises to our dedicated and hardworking employees," said Tomlin. 

Tomlin said the company respects the workers' rights to peacefully protest and will continue to seek a deal. The Foundation says it has acted in good faith, including offering pay raises to union employees. 

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation told 13NewsNow it offered the union a proposal this past week including 23.5 percent pay raises to its lowest paid employees, effectively immediately if agreed upon. 

The offer includes non-tipped employees receive a minimum of $15.50 per hour or $2.95 an hour increase, and tipped employees would receive a minimum of $7.37 per hour or a $1.00 an hour increase. Under the plan, minimum pay would raise again in July 2022 and January 2023. 

Every non-tipped employee would receive a ratification bonus of $750 and tipped employees would get a $375 bonus, according to Colonial Williamsburg. 

In response to concerns about overtime, Colonial Williamsburg and CEO Clint Fleet wrote the following: 

"We understand that some of you have worked a great deal of overtime, which we appreciate very much. We think the significant higher wages mentioned above, along with our best-in-class benefit package for the hospitality industry in the Williamsburg market, will help us recruit new employees which will reduce overtime burden."

The impact of the pandemic is still being felt on the hospitality industry, as labor shortages challenge businesses across the country.  Tomlin said the goal is to provide relief for staff. 

"If for some reason we still face a labor shortage which requires significant overtime for our existing employees, we commit reopening bargaining on this issue," wrote Fleet. 

Workers like Pusey hope a deal comes soon. 

“I love my job, but like I said I want my job to respect and love us back,” she said.