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Unite Here Local 217 is on the Move in Fairfield

Stamford, CT – Unite Here Local 217, the union for hotel and food service workers in Connecticut, has been expanding in the southern part of the state.

About five years ago the union organized the work- ers at the Greenwich Hyatt hotel. This effort was led by Hyatt cook Dieuseul DeGraff, a Haitian who lives in Norwalk. DeGraff, along with Unite Here Local 217 organizers and many of his co-workers, organ- ized the workers into the union and won a union contract, which improved the workers’ wages and benefits significantly, especially the housekeepers’, whom are mostly from Haiti and Latin America.

Shortly after that the union organized the food service workers at the employee cafeteria in the RBS building, in Stamford. About a decade ago the food service workers in the corporate cafeteria at Diageo’s in Norwalk joined Unite Here Local 217 and many decades ago the dining hall workers at Fairfield University also organized into Local 217.

The Hyatt and RBS campaigns were followed by an organizing effort at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford. Donald Jean Marie, a bellman at the Greenwich Hyatt Hotel, along with other rank and file union members at that hotel, and workers from the RBS cafeteria led the effort. A Hilton work- er committee visited their co-workers discreetly at their homes over a three month period explaining the advantages of union membership. These meetings were conducted in Creole, Spanish and English. Once the Hilton workers were ready to form their union, they filed for an NLRB election. Elections are one of the methods used by working people to organize themselves into unions.

This effort led to a successful election that was followed by one year of bargaining with the hotel’s owners, and resulted in a first time union contract this past January. The contract improved the workers’ wages, benefits and rights on the job.

Just before the Hilton workers won their first Union contract, the workers at the Stamford Sheraton Hotel petitioned for a union election. This unionizing cam- paign was led by many workers from the Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton, including Benscy Clerfond and Lineda Pierre, both members of the Haitian community.

All these organizing initiatives were supported by a sizable number of elected officials and clergy mem- bers who understood the tangible positive impact associated with union membership. Remy Leconte, Myrtha Alcin (from the Hilton), Ronald Miracle and Lourianne Dossou (from the Hyatt) have been instru- mental in facilitating the community component of these projects.

Three weeks ago the Sheraton workers had their first bargaining session where they presented to the com- pany a 50 page union contract proposal. These workers are committed to win- ning a Unite Here Local 217 union con- tract which will allow them to work with dignity and respect just like the workers at the Hyatt, Hilton, Diageo and RBS

have won.

“I am so proud that my co-workers and I organized the union,” said Benscy Clerfond from the Hilton. “This is how we will lift up the local Haitian commu- nity,” he added.

The Union has also been very active in fighting for immigrant rights, especially TPS renewal, and protesting ICE and the treatment of families requesting asylum. Local 217 members filled two buses that traveled to Philadelphia last summer to demonstrate outside of a detention cen- ter holding recently detained immigrant families. They were joined by union members and supporters from up and down the east coast.

“I know that with hard work and partici- pating with my union I have grown as a person and improved the lives of hotel workers in the Stamford area,” declared Donald Jean Marie. “We are going to continue to talk to hotel workers here and throughout the state until all hotel workers can live and work with respect and dignity. One job should be enough,” he concluded.

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