About 100 people on Thursday picketed the Holiday Inn Midtown near downtown Austin to urge the hotel owners not to be complicit in wage theft. Earlier in the year, Mely’s Construction, a San Antonio-based company, hired about 30 Austin workers for a remodelling project at the hotel, but left town after the work was done still owing the workers about $10,000 in wages.
“The job is done, the rooms look great. (Holiday Inn) raised their rates and are benefitting from the remodel, but we’ve received nothing” said Heladio Liborio, one of the unpaid workers. “It’s been hard to pay my rent, bills, and take care of my family.”
About dozen of the workers contacted the Workers Defense Project (WDP) to help them recover their stolen wages. When staff from WDP talked with the owner of Mely’s Construction, “he said that he does not want to pay people who are here illegally, but that he did not care when hiring” said Patricia Zavala of WDP.
That led WDP to try an recover the stolen money from Mely’s employer’s the project’s general contractor and International Hotel Group, which owns the Holiday Inn Midtown franchise, but both refused to be held responsible.
Thursday’s action at the hotel was another attempt to get the hotel owners to accept responsibility for the wage theft that occurred on one of their projects. “The Holiday Inn has washed its hands, but now has the opportunity to show that they are responsible leaders in the industry paying people who did the work and treating them fairly,” Zavala said at the rally. “They should ensure that those who work so hard to make it one of the nation’s most profitable hotel chains are compensated for their work.”
According to Bloomberg, Intercontinental Hotel Group increased profits by 38 percent in 2010.
A number of local unions supported the wage theft victims by attending the picket line and rally. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, Iron Workers Local 482, Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186, and the Texas AFL-CIO were on hand as were members of the local clergy.
A delegation from the picket line went into the hotel to once again ask the hotel owners to do the right thing, but were told by hotel representatives that the Holiday Inn was not responsible for the actions of its subcontractors.
Wage theft especially among immigrant construction workers is a serious problem in Austin. WDP estimates that one in five Austin area construction workers have not been paid for work they’ve done.