By ERNIE GOTTA
“I would put off this extra $600 true-up they’re talking about,” said Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont in a recent speech to the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce. Lamont was referring to the extension of additional unemployment benefits to laid off, furloughed, and under employed people due to COVID-19.
The governor also claimed in his speech that the $600 addition to unemployment benefits would discourage people from working. Instead of providing real relief to working people Governor Lamont wants to give a one-time $450 stipend for those returning to work.
What about those that can’t go back to work? At the Hyatt Regency in Greenwich, a few miles from the governor’s multi-million-dollar home, the hotel announced that 150 employees will go from a furloughed status to laid off. The majority of those employees are union workers and members of Local 217 Unite Here who will lose their health benefits with no recall likely in the near future. These workers, like many others can’t return to work even if they wanted to.
Laid-off workers have depended on the extra $600 stimulus payments because meager unemployment benefits don’t cover the cost of living for most families. The hospitality industry has been hard hit. Hotels, for example, have paid notoriously low wages to workers in a Connecticut industry that is largely under-represented by union contracts. In many cases, workers are employed at multiple hotels, and their access to income from work has been completely decimated, if not eliminated. In general, workers are facing a massive crisis. A recent study shows that 42 percent of jobs are not likely to come back at all.
Prior to the pandemic, workers in Greenwich and neighboring Stamford began a fight with the hotel bosses to improve their working conditions, pay, and benefits. In six years, workers—mostly Haitian and Latinx women—at the Hyatt, Hilton, and Sheraton organized unions at their hotels. They’ve brought over 300 workers into Local 217 and began the long process of solidifying their gains by forcing the bosses to make concessions through negotiated contracts.
The hotel bosses, though, have shown nothing but contempt for their employees who have made hotel investors millions in profits over the years. Today, the hotel bosses want to use the pandemic as an excuse to smash progress made by women and immigrant workers in the union hotels. There is also little regard for the health, safety, and well-being of hotel workers returning to the job. They have not yet heard a response from Lamont and the hotel owners following an action and a petition signed by hundreds of hotel workers across the state with their demands. The governor’s opposition to relief for unemployed workers helps hotel owners and Connecticut corporations continue to take advantage of the working class without pause.
For years, going back to his failed attempts to run for Congress, the Democratic Party has tried to sell Ned Lamont as a “progressive” and “friend of labor.” With the rise of a mass protest movement against police brutality, Lamont’s “openness” to make Juneteenth a state holiday sounds disingenuous since no real structural changes to address racism have been made. Furthermore, his proposal to cut relief shows an utter lack of care for the lives of Black and Brown workers who will face the greatest impact of this decision.
Governor Lamont is a multi-millionaire resident of Greenwich, which is part of Connecticut’s “Gold Coast.” It is one of the wealthiest towns in the country and home to no less than eight billionaires. Working people should know that Lamont’s real base of support comes from his social class and his neighbors, the white wealthy elite.
Dan Piper, Socialist Resurgence’s candidate for state representative in the First District, comments: “Ned Lamont has said out loud what every capitalist knows. You can’t order a person around day after day, making you rich unless that person is desperate—especially if you’re paying them starvation wages to do dangerous work. And that is exactly what Lamont wants people to do. What’s worse is that many many people simply can’t make up that $600 if it goes missing. The rich can’t figure out a way to make money off of the work that needs to be done, so the jobs aren’t there. Not to mention, the many personal crises that have come out of this pandemic.”
Connecticut workers can defeat the corporate agenda of the bosses and politicians. A massive movement of organized labor in the streets taking inspiration from the youth fighting police brutality could fundamentally change the course of events. Workers shouldn’t sit passively waiting for politicians to make changes. The current fight against police brutality is reminding us that when the streets are filled with a creative and vibrant movement, the masses can shape history.