Making Do For The Holidays
Unemployment continues to soar as 2001 ends badly for hospitality industry.
Thursday, January 3, 2002
Spread out on the table was a package of mini-Legos, a box of checkers, a white teddy bear, a Batman videotape, a copy of Aesop''s Fables, and other toys intended for the children of the unemployed.
Before leaving the union office in Pacific Grove a few days before Christmas, out-of-work hotel staffers Ana Virginia Reyes, Jorge Velasquez and Naresh Prasad took a second to look at the selection. The three are among the hundreds of local hospitality workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut severely due to weakness in the industry.
The Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Union Local 483 represents 1,800 members at 12 major hotels on the Peninsula. Union officials estimate 10 percent of the members have lost their jobs. Forty percent have been working reduced hours. Either scenario hurts people.
"They''re paycheck to paycheck," says Leonard O''Neill, secretary and treasurer of the local. "They miss one day and it''s a struggle."
Velasquez, Prasad and Reyes had come to the office to pick up $40 vouchers, good for food and other necessities at Albertson''s and Sav-On. The union has bought 300 of them. Laid-off workers get two a month; those with reduced hours get one. The vouchers became available in early December and as of Dec. 20, 100 had been taken.
Prasad, who moved here two years ago from Fiji, uses his vouchers strictly for food. "Tissues?" he says. "You don''t really need them."
Prasad has a wife and two teenaged children. He''s 42 and lives in Seaside. He''s had work for one day a week for the last two months. He looks in the papers every day.
"I can''t find a job at this time," Prasad says. "It''s very hard because everybody is in the same position. Day or night I''m willing to do because I need to work."
To kill time he putters around his house, painting and fixing anything that''s broken. His family has some food stored away. The vouchers from the union help for buying meat, bread and milk. "Grown-ups can survive but kids need to have food," he says.
Even with virtually no income, he has been able to pay rent. However, he says, "Now, I think I''ll have difficulty."
Prasad says he applied for unemployment insurance, which wouldn''t come close to the $325 a week he''s used to earning. He says the deal with unemployment "didn''t really work out good."
"When you call you have to wait for hours," Prasad says. "You can''t reach them."
According to the state labor department, more than 700 hospitality workers lost their jobs here from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1. The local unemployment rate leapt from 5.5 percent in September to 9.3 percent in November. (The state rate rose 5.3 to 5.8 percent and the national rate from 4.7 to 5.3 percent.)
Among those statistics is Jorge Velasquez, age 47. He has four children and a wife. A native of Mexico City, he has lived in Seaside for 11 years. When there was work, he says, he made $650 every two weeks as a houseman at the La Playa Hotel in Carmel. Today he makes "zero." He worked eight days in November. "This week, nothing." With prospects slim, he''s looking for a job. He says he''s applied for work at Costco and Orchard Supply. Now''s he thinking he might try to drive a taxi.
In order to supplement its reserve assistance fund, the union raised $20,000 through solicited donations and a raffle this fall. Some $4,000 of that money was sent to a victims'' fund for the 43 HERE members killed in the Windows on the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center. The Pacific Grove local had already sent $10,000 right after the attack. The members then found themselves needing help, too.
"If you find yourself unemployed or with reduced hours, there''s virtually no safety net," O''Neill says. "There are not a lot of agencies you can go to."
Union members are directed to the Food Bank, which provides emergency provisions throughout the county. xxxIn September the Food Bank gave away 425,190 pounds of food. It gave out 476,715 pounds in November.
Pat Gadban, an education and advocacy coordinator at the Salinas-based Food Bank, says the provisions last a family two or three days. Families with more than six members get two boxes.
With lots of low-paying jobs in such an expensive area, "It''s the nature of our economy," Gadban says, for the Food Bank to be in demand.
The box of vittles from Food Bank includes a can of tomato sauce, two cans of fruit, three cans of vegetables, a bag of rice, dried peas, dried beans, bread, pastry as well as seasonal local produce like carrots, celery and cabbage.
But what people need are jobs. Ana Virginia Reyes, 31, has two kids and has lived in Monterey for 11 years. She''s been laid off from her job as a maid at the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Along with Prasad and Velasquez, she came into the union office to pick up a grocery voucher.
Without regular work she found two houses to clean each week. But it''s not reliable. "They cancel the dates," she says. The people who normally have their house cleaned no longer have the money to pay her.