Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Despite a four-year fight for a new union contract at the Monterey Bay Travelodge, housekeeper Juana Enriquez says she is not ready back down. Enriquez is the union shop steward for UNITE HERE Local 483 and a 16-year Travelodge employee. Despite her seniority, Enriquez earns barely above the state’s minimum wage.
Kilsoo Seo, the motel’s owner, has frozen Enriquez’s wages and those of 11 other housekeepers at $8.84 an hour. Seo also took away the workers’ health insurance and pension plans in 2004.
“He wants us to quit,” Enriquez says. “It’s not going to happen. We are fighting until the end.”
On Nov. 28 union members across the county will rally in front of the motel to commemorate the third anniversary of a national boycott of the Travelodge. Seo has refused to negotiate a new contract, union officials say, even after more than 100 demonstrations and a confrontation with union staff at his business in Alaska.
The Travelodge campaign has been quiet in recent months while UNITE HERE focused on securing new contracts for its other Monterey Peninsula hotels. Travelodge is the final holdout of the 15 hotels represented by the union.
“This is the last one,” says Sergio Rangel, union organizer and president of UNITE HERE.
Reached at his video store in Bethel, Alaska, Seo declined to speak with the Weekly, referring questions to his lawyer. San Jose attorney Robert Wilger, who has represented Seo in the past, also declined to comment.
Housekeepers say they will pressure Seo until he agrees to a new contract or sells the motel.
Christina Florian sits at a picnic table with coworkers in her Seaside garage. The housekeeper and mother of three knocks on the wooden table to avoid becoming ill. “For me getting sick is not an option,” Florian says in Spanish through a translator.
The absence of health insurance is a huge concern among the Travelodge workers, who combined have 24 children. Juana Enriquez’s sister Aurora Enriquez, who is taking a leave of absence from the Travelodge, last year had stomach pain but waited a week before going to the hospital. It turned out she had appendicitis, which escalated into a surgical emergency because it was untreated, Juana Enriquez says. “I almost lost my sister because we didn’t have insurance,” she says.
While several housekeepers have stayed with the Travelodge, others have left for better jobs.
Laura Florian, Christina Florian’s sister, took a job at the unionized Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley in 2003. Florian says she cleans 10 rooms a day compared to 15 at the Travelodge and she earns $10.74 an hour plus tips. Florian also gets health insurance and a pension. “I regained all the old benefits that I lost,” she says in Spanish.
At 41, Enriquez says she is at an age where she needs health insurance. She works another full-time job as a caregiver to make ends meet. “I hope [Seo] sells the property to else with a better heart,” she says.