Terrorists Kill Jobs
United we stand--in the unemployment line.
Thursday, October 25, 2001
Before the translator can even finish asking the question, Porfirio Amaya answers simply and rapidly, "Nada."
The translator, Sergio Rangel, is a bespectacled American-flag-pin-wearing organizer for the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 483 in Pacific Grove. Amaya, a gardener at the Highlands Inn in Carmel, was asked what he''d been doing since his working hours were slashed to two days a week.
Forty-five years old and a native of Oaxaca, Amaya came to the U.S. in 1984. He rents a mobile home in Seaside for $400 a month. One of his three daughters just got a job at Pebble Beach Co., which announced two weeks ago the layoff of 170 workers. "They don''t know if she''s going to be one of them," Rangel translates.
On the high-rent Monterey Peninsula, low-paid service workers are reeling from the shock waves of Sept. 11. The hospitality industry was critically wounded by the terrorist strikes. The planes are flying again but the pain lingers. Jobs have vaporized. "We used to have jobs on a list over here," Rangel says. "Now we don''t have anything."
According to the Monterey branch of the Economic Development Department, callers to the job office are encouraged to try again later, "due to the high volume of incoming calls."
One local worker who''s learned to make that call early in the morning, before the line clogs, is Maria Cardenas. A 38-year-old single mother with a 9-year-old boy, she used to work a full week as a housekeeper at the Hyatt Hotel in Monterey. She''s lucky to get a couple days a week. She''s worried.
While talking at the union office, she fidgets and talks ceaselessly. "I cry in the bathroom. I''m feeling sick because there''s no work," she says, on the verge of tears. "I pray to God every day, but I need to believe in myself."
Right after the Sept. 11 attacks, the local HERE chapter raised $10,000 for the union''s brothers and sisters back in New York. Fifty union members were killed in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Now Local 483 has started a raffle to raise another $10,000 to help themselves.
The union represents 1,800 workers in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Its members are maintenance workers, housekeepers, waiters and laundry staff. Some union workers are paid just under $10 an hour, but pay increases with seniority. Sixty percent are Latino.
About 50 of the 170 workers laid off at Pebble Beach were union members.
Mark Verbonich, the vice president for community affairs at the Pebble Beach Co., says the resort is losing money. Pebble Beach usually has better than 90 percent occupancy this time of year. Immediately following the attacks, visitor numbers dropped 60 percent right away. Occupancy is now off 30 percent. Verbonich says the company "expects the losses to continue well into next year." But Pebble Beach is hoping that this round of job cuts will be the last.
"There are no guarantees, but we do not plan future layoffs," Verbonich says.
Mark Weller, a researcher at HERE, says that while the layoffs are bad news, workers who have had their hours cut are straining the system.
"It''s always a shock, even though we try to anticipate these things happening," he says. "We''re in crisis mode. This is unprecedented. We''ve never seen anything like this in October. This is one of our best months."
Weller says the union is looking to politicians for help. One thing HERE would like to see is government assistance to people on the COBRA health insurance program, which covers workers in between jobs. But leaders haven''t jumped on the idea yet.
"We''re starting to get a response, put it that way," he says, grinning.