The UNITE HERE Local 26 labor union provided food donations Saturday to those recently fired by the luxury Nine Zero Hotel downtown.
The hotel fired 52 employees — more than two-thirds of its staff — in March, violating its contract with UNITE HERE, according to a press release from the union.
Union members passed out groceries to families and Easter candy to their children.
After a year of waiting to be recalled, the employees received notices of their firing March 18, said Alexia Figueroa, 39, who had been working at the hotel for 15 years.
“Instead of giving us hope, they sent us a letter saying that we are out of work,” Figueroa said. “Instead of helping us recover, now that Boston started reopening, they just kicked us out of the company.”
The union’s contract with the hotel stipulates that workers can only be fired for “just cause,” said Carlos Aramayo, president of UNITE HERE Local 26 — adding the firings were not only a violation of that agreement, but also a violation of “common decency.”
“It’s my belief that this is a cynical ploy by the property to use the pandemic as an excuse to reduce labor costs in the future,” Aramayo said.
The union plans to take legal action and continue campaigning in front of the Nine Zero Hotel, Aramayo said.
“The union is a collection of folks who work together to try to make everyone’s lives better in the industry,” Aramayo said. “I know our other members and a lot of our allies are going to stand behind these workers until justice is done and they’re back at work.”
Nine Zero Hotel did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the time of publish.
One day after publication, a representative of the hotel wrote its actions “comply with the union contract that has been in place for years” in a statement.
Workers like Figueroa are waiting to see whether the hotel rehires them soon.
“We are just hoping that they reconsider the decision that they took,” Figueroa said. “We were already employees of them, so we know the job and we don’t need training, so it’s easy for them [to] just keep us there.”
Dorchester resident Aniyah Hill, 22, had been working at the hotel for four years. She said losing her job last month has made it difficult to pay for her rent and schooling, as well as help provide financially for her niece and nephew.
“It’s truly affected me tremendously, and to know that I don’t have a job to actually come back to to support my life up until I graduate college, it’s kind of scary,” Hill said. “A lot of us have been there and devoted a lot of our time to the Nine Zero, and we’re really like a family.”
Gelali Amemu, 41, lives in West Roxbury and had worked at the hotel for around 15 years before being fired. She said she doesn’t have other work to turn to.
“It’s so horrible … it’s like a discrimination thing they are doing to us,” Amemu said. “We love our jobs.”
City Councilor Ed Flynn stopped by the event for a few minutes to voice his and the City Council’s support for the workers.
“It’s unconscionable for a company like Nine Zero to fire Black, brown and Asian workers during a pandemic,” Flynn said in an interview. “That’s not what this city or what this country is about.”
City Councilors, including Flynn, have filed a hearing resolution where they expect the owner of the Nine Zero Hotel, Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group to explain why they are “using the pandemic as an excuse to fire workers,” Flynn said.
The hospitality worker population is largely composed of people of color, immigrants and women, said Sarah Bartley, senior director of community impact at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley.
“[They are] often the first to be laid off and the last to be rehired,” Bartley said. “It’s not a job you can do from home and when demand falls.”
United Way partnered with UNITE HERE Local 26 and BEST Hospitality Training to create a Hospitality Workers COVID-19 Emergency Fund, which provides grocery store gift cards to workers who had been laid off or otherwise economically impacted by the pandemic.
The fund has raised around $454,000 for 2,100 families, helping workers primarily from East Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury, Quincy, Malden and Revere, Bartley said, which are neighborhoods and cities with higher populations of people of color.
Bartley added supporting hospitality workers is dependent on community interest and won’t end once the pandemic is over. Since the 1970s, United Way has given financial assistance for income disruption, and is at a larger scale since the pandemic began, she said.
“It always ebbs and flows with the community’s focus on it,” Bartley said. “We will try our hardest to sustain the public attention on something like this because we know that these households will be impacted for years.”
Updated April 6 at 12:19 p.m.