That’s right, RIFuture knew Joey before he was famous. (You can check out the viral YouTube video here.) Everybody should go see him and the What Cheer Brigade next Saturday, November 19, 2011 at Firehouse 13 (fh13.com) 8:00pm. More details at bottom.
DS: From what I’ve seen of the press you’ve gotten, people are really psyched about your quitting the way you did, because it was indeed awesome. But they’re treating it like you guys made a cameo in a Dilbert cartoon: “Work sucks, so it’s sweet that you told your boss to shove it. Period.” But there’s a much more interesting political underpinning to what you did.
JD: There’s a big history to the video. You can sense in the manager’s face that we’ve had a rough relationship for a long time. I started work at the Renaissance in 2008 and quickly learned how bad it was there. Many people ask, “Why did you stay there if it was so bad?” Well, I had to. I was paying for school and this was at the bottom point of the recession–there were no other jobs in Providence.
Since I had to stay, I decided to fight to make the place better. My co-workers and I fought managers informally, confronting them with groups if they were doing something terrible or simply sticking up for ourselves in meetings. We also fought more formally, though, by organizing a union.
We went public with the union in January 2010, presenting the hotel with about 85% of workers signed up on union cards. The union had a card-check agreement with the hotel so we expected to quickly enter into negotiations. We did immediately win many concessions from the hotel–they were so scared of us having a formal union that they tried to appease us. Suddenly hey had all this money to go around they always denied they had! We got raises across the board, new uniforms, many of the worst managers were fired, and so on.
But they also began a vicious anti-union campaign. They quickly began giving me fewer shifts and less lucrative shifts. They held large captive-audience meetings where they spread lies about the union. Managers held private conversations with employees where they made statements like, “If the union comes in, we’ll have to fire half of the workers here.” The hotel even targeted and fired pro-union workers for fabricated reasons. My good friend, a strongly pro-union bartender who had worked at the place since it opened, was fired for supposedly giving away a shot for free. There were no witnesses, the security cameras were conveniently turned off that night, and they provided zero evidence other than the word of a single manager.
This is still going on. The hotel refuses to negotiate and they continue their anti-union campaign.
I was one of the leaders of the union campaign, and so these managers really didn’t like me. I knew that if I was going to give them the pleasure of me quitting that I would have to go out in a big way, and I did.
DS: Do you have a sense of what effects “Joey Quits” is having on your former colleagues? Is morale up? Are the bosses on edge — and does that make them meaner or nicer?
JD: I’ve spoken with a lot of workers who are still at the hotel and a lot of workers who were fired or left the hotel. All my friends who were fired for made up reasons–often directly by the manager in the video–are obviously thrilled about the whole thing. We all agree we’ve gotten back at them 3 million times over.
From everything I hear, the video is a big hit with workers still at the hotel. It became so popular that the hotel had to ban youtube from the hotel’s computers and they’ve had to instruct the phone operators to reject any media inquiries. I think it’s helped to instill a general attitude of rejecting the authority of the managers. I’ve heard the manager in the video has been extremely nice as of late, expect for one or two epic outbursts.
Several people have told me that the hotel has started telling workers that they should hate me for taking business away from the hotel. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s ridiculous–and it doesn’t seem anyone there is buying it. I’m sure in the long run that all this public attention has shame the hotel–and hopefully Marriott as a whole just a little bit–into treating their workers better.
DS: Did you guys have any allies in management?
JD: Some. It is important to note that low-level managers in the service industry often get exploited more than anyone. They are made to work 60 hours a week and kiss-ass all day for maybe a $30000 salary. I know that’s better than what a lot of people are pulling, but it still isn’t glamorous. We actually have an amazing post of our website from a former housekeeping manager at the Renaissance. He always respected the workers and stood up for people, and he was fired for it. His story is great though because he got to see all the disgusting stuff managers said about workers behind closed-doors.
DS: Do you think the conditions at the Renaissance are endemic to hotel work, or does it vary shop by shop? Is having a union vs not having a union the big difference?
JD: The conditions at the Renaissance are typical of hotels in the US. I’d actually say many hotels are worse because they haven’t scared the company with a union. There are cities where working conditions are decent because there is such a high density of unionized hotels. New York, for example, has something like 85% union density, and the workers at those hotels generally get treated very well. And there are unionized hotels all over where things are much better than at the Renaissance. Right down the street at the Biltmore and the Westin workers have all sorts of protections that they don’t have at the Renaissance. It’s not perfect there, but it’s much better.
DS: My sense is that the foreign press gets the labor organizing angle more. Is that your sense too? Why do you think it’s that way?
JD: Some domestic press gets the labor angle. The Huffington Post, for example, wrote a really amazing article. Our local Channel 10 did a good story, too. In general, though, the foreign press is much more interested into the labor angle. I did an interview for a big German paper and all we talked about was the US labor movement. The US is unique in the first world in it’s harsh anti-labor attitude. You could see that come over most viciously in the fights in Wisconsin and elsewhere over the past year. You can see it in our pathetic labor laws. And you can see it in the fact that we have the starkest inequality in the first world. The domestic press’ indifference to labor issues is just a reflection of the larger problem in the US. And I think the international press is so interested because they’re excited to see that there are people fighting for workers rights here.
DS: What do you want to do with all the attention and acclaim that’s followed from this?
JD: I’m trying to channel it all into the fight for hotel workers’ rights. We’ve just launched a website, www.joeyquits.com, where hotel workers from all over the country can post their stories of being mistreated in the hotel industry. I know my video has deterred my managers and maybe even Marriott as a whole from exploiting workers. As we collect stories from workers in hotels everywhere, we can hold the entire industry accountable. We already have a bunch of amazing posts and there will be more put up everyday. Visitors will be able to search by hotel name or city, so they can look up working conditions in the city they’re in or a city they’re visiting. There’s also a resources page that directs workers to organizations fighting for workers’ rights and tells non-workers how they can assist in the fight.
DS: Highlights and lowlights from the tour so far? There are rumors you got offered a pilot — are they true?
JD: I’ve really just been very busy–trying to get word out about the issues and setting up this website. It has been great getting to see all these shows, but there hasn’t been any of the celebrity fun you imagine would just appear. No pilot yet. Maybe the pilots’ union will get behind me though.
DS: Why have you already sold out? I mean, you wore a “f*** Nazi skinheads” shirt the last time What Cheer played one of my fundraisers, but you’re so prim and proper when you appear on GMA and Access Hollywood. What gives?
JD: Do you think that hurt your campaign? I’d like to sell out more–no real money from any of this! The band actually got in a lot of trouble on Good Morning America. We got yelled at multiple times for being too loud backstage and they even threatened to cut our segment to get us to shut up and stay in our room. I also got to say “union” of Access Hollywood. So don’t worry, we’re still keeping it real.
And, the details on next Saturday’s show:Saturday, November 19, 2011
Firehouse 13 (fh13.com)
What Cheer? Brigade – Providence’s own 19-piece brass mayhem party.
Brunt Of It – Evil sounding punk and ska from RI and Boston.
DJ Schleifdog spinning hip-hop, 80’s, booty bass and the most
tastefully selected out-of-leftfield pop hits.
PLUS a special guest, to be announced the day before the show!