The employees’ decision is historical because the region’s tourism industry hasn’t seen a strike in over 20 years. Tourism workers are some of the lowest paid in the region.
More than 200 food service workers at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando could soon go on strike.
Last week, the workers represented by the union UNITE HERE Local 737 unanimously authorized a strike, which could occur anytime after Dec. 1. That’s the day after the union’s contract with Sodexo, a global company that contracts with OCCC, is set to expire.
The union, which represents dishwashers, cooks, concession workers, and other food service employees at the venue, is asking for an improvement in wages and benefits. It began negotiations with the company last August.
“I believe our members have made it clear to the company that we need to see significant improvements to wages and benefits, like a real pension plan at the convention center, and that they’re willing to fight for it. Convention center workers in Orlando decided to take a historic step forward and held a vote to authorize a strike. The results were unmistakable,” Jeremy Haicken, president of UNITE HERE Local 737, said during a press conference last week.
Haicken said the workers’ decision was historical because the region’s tourism industry hasn’t seen a strike in over 20 years. In fact, the tourism industry is one of the main economic pillars of Central Florida, but workers in the sector are some of the lowest paid in the region.
Currently, Sodexo’s minimum wage for their workers at the OCCC is $13 an hour for on-call workers and $13.50 for full-time employees. OCCC is the third-largest convention center in the US.
During the negotiations, the union presented a report showing that unionized Disney and other tourism workers need a raise, especially when taking into consideration average rent in Orange County is up 22% from last year.
Jackeline Ponce, a retail and concession worker at the Orange County Convention Center for the past nine years, said it’s hard to make ends meet on her current wages.
“I struggle with food, I struggle with gas, I struggle with my rent because I only make $13.60 an hour,” she said during the conference.
In contrast to workers, Sodexo reported a 21% growth in revenue for the 2022 fiscal year.