Convention Center Workers Warn of Possible Strike

Moiral Convention Center
Photo by Tom Woodward|License

Sodexo employees at the New Orleans Convention Center represented by the hospitality workers’ union Unite Here Local 23 warned of a possible strike over low pay and poor working conditions. New Orleans workers joined with Unite Here members employed by Sodexo in Orlando, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Detroit. Workers in Orlando have already voted to authorize a strike, and Las Vegas workers will conduct a strike vote on December 7 and 8. The contract with Sodexo workers in New Orleans expires on Dec. 31.

According to Unite Here representatives, one major issue in addition to pay and benefits is the fact that Sodexo hasn’t replaced workers who were furloughed during the pandemic, leading to an increased workload as convention business returns to normal. According to Unite Here Local 23 president Marlene Patrick-Cooper, Sodexo employs only 90 people at the Morial Convention center – down from 150 before the pandemic. Now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, the New Orleans’ convention business could possibly surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

“Our members … are ready to take action as needed to fight for a better contract,” she said. “I know our members are inspired by their union siblings in Orlando and Las Vegas.”

On the list of demands from food service workers includes wage increases, affordable health care, secure retirement pensions, and fairer scheduling. According to Unite Here national president D Taylor, 84% of surveyed convention center workers report that they are struggling to cover necessities such as food, rent, and transportation.

“New Orleans hospitality workers are struggling, Sodexo convention center workers are struggling,” Patrick-Cooper said. “Too many workers are working multiple jobs just to survive.”

The lowest non-tipped wage at the Morial Convention Center is $13.25 an hour. While that number is above the national average of $12.44 an hour, it’s far below the living wage in New Orleans. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, a single adult with no children needs to make a minimum of $16.79 per hour in New Orleans.

“Right now, I’m renting a room for $250 per week, I’ve developed hypertension and I’ve lost a tooth since I started working for Sodexo,” said Wanoneica Arnold, a cook employed by Sodexo at the Morial Convention Center. “If I got a raise, I could afford an apartment, a place to lay my head. I want to see fair pay, retirement, medical, dental and vision, medical time off and raises across the board,” she added.

Sodexo was quick to paint the announcement as nothing more than a negotiating tactic ahead of the contract renewal next month. However, Unite Here said Sodexo has not yet agreed to formal negotiations on the upcoming contract renewal in New Orleans.

“Tourism is the heart of New Orleans and Sodexo can play a crucial role in our city by stepping up and showing that a hospitality job … can be enough,” Patrick-Cooper said.

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *