Desiree King's three decades of employment at the St. Paul Hotel and St. Paul Grill came to an abrupt end last year. King, an evening server, was one of thousands of hotel workers across Minnesota thrown out of work by the pandemic.
The St. Paul Grill's website says it won't reopen until September. When that happens, King wants assurance she'll have her job back — and she wants hospitality workers across Minnesota's capital city to have that option guaranteed too.
The Minnesota Unite Here union, which represents about 3,000 hospitality workers in St. Paul, is lobbying the City Council to pass an ordinance that would require hotels and event centers to recall employees laid off during the pandemic before hiring others.
"These workers lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own overnight," said Wade Luneburg, the union's political director. "This creates a path back to the jobs they do and the wage rates and the benefits that they enjoyed pre-COVID."
Minneapolis passed a similar measure in March to help workers in the industry, which was hit especially hard by job losses during the pandemic. Unite Here is also lobbying for statewide protections that could be tucked into a larger workforce and economic development bill this legislative session.
The proposed St. Paul ordinance would require hotels and event centers — which include stadiums, convention centers and concert halls — to give those who lost jobs during the pandemic the first chance to get rehired. Employers would have to give individuals at least 10 days to respond to written offers or five days to respond to texts and e-mails.
The ordinance would be enforced by St. Paul's Department of Human Rights and Equal Employment Opportunity. It would remain in effect until the end of 2022.
"There is a danger that employers would try to weed out certain members of their staff," said King, an executive board member of the Unite Here local chapter.
At 59, she is concerned that older members of the workforce, as well as women and people with health issues, could have more trouble finding jobs with new employers.
Richard Dobransky, president of St. Paul-based Morrissey Hospitality, said most of his company's Twin Cities hotels and venues are waiting for conventions, festivals and corporate travel to resume before staffing up fully — something that likely won't happen until September at the earliest.
"Once demand is back, of course we'll hire our experienced people back as soon as we can," Dobransky said. "We just don't have our demand drivers yet to even think about doing this."
He added that he's more concerned about being able to find enough workers when that time comes since many hospitality employees may have switched jobs or professions in the last year. King said she took "an enormous hit" financially since being laid off but has managed to make ends meet with unemployment benefits.
"I don't think some of us could walk into a job at that income level, especially at our ages," she said. "This has been our entire career."
The City Council is taking virtual comments from St. Paul residents ahead of Wednesday's meeting and will likely vote on the ordinance next week.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the city's downtown and is one of the ordinance's sponsors, said the measure aims to provide an extra layer of help to those "who may have been really suffering during the pandemic."
"To me, it's about fairness and not an unreasonable burden to ask of employers," she said.
Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478