‘A new standard:’ Workers at Convention Center OK contract for $18 minimum wage – Orlando Sentinel

Sodexo food service and retail workers at the Orange County Convention Center will earn at least $18 an hour this year, making them the first hospitality workers in Orlando to reach that high of a minimum wage, according to their union.

Workers voted Wednesday to approve a contract negotiated by Unite Here Local 737 with Sodexo that includes the wage increase and a completely employer-funded pension.

The contract includes a $3 per hour increase retroactive to August 2022. Workers will get another $1.25 hourly increase in August, boosting all employees above the $18 minimum rate the union says is the least workers need to earn to afford the cost of living in Orlando.

According to Local 737, all non-tipped workers will receive a total raise of $5.50 per hour by August 2024.

“We have won a new standard for hospitality workers in Central Florida,” said Angie McKinnon, who led the bargaining committee and is Local 737′s financial secretary-treasurer. McKinnon said the union represents between 800 and 900 total full-time and on-call workers at the convention center.

The contract approval avoids a strike with Sodexo that 235 workers unanimously voted to authorize upon their previous contract’s expiration in December. The union and Sodexo have been renegotiating the contract since August with workers asking for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

At the time of the strike vote, Unite Here union leaders nationwide said convention center workers across the U.S. deserved to share in the profits of Sodexo, which contracts with centers that are returning to or surpassing pre-pandemic business.

The Orange County Convention Center held 159 events in its 2022 fiscal year, bringing in $2.3 billion, spokeswoman Katarina Dos Santos said.

She referred comment on the negotiations to Sodexo, which did not immediately respond to questions.

Local 737′s November wage report found 69% of hospitality staff at area employers, including Sodexo and Walt Disney World, struggled to pay their rent or mortgage each month with median earnings of $16.50 an hour. It said 45% of these workers skipped meals to make ends meet and 62% reported having less than $100 in savings.

The union determined a single hospitality worker without children would need to earn $18.19 an hour to afford basic essentials in Orlando, though it noted that “most workers need to make much more than that to cover their necessities.”

In that report, Sodexo worker Jackeline Ponce said she needed financial assistance from her family because she earned just $13.60 an hour after nearly 10 years working at the Orange County Convention Center. She supports a chronically ill daughter and her grandson on that salary.

“They have to raise wages so we can have a dignified life,” she said in November.

On Wednesday, Ponce said she and her fellow workers are grateful for the raise and that they will soon have a pension through Sodexo for the first time.

“We fought very hard for almost six months, but we had a victory,” said Ponce, who also worked on the union’s bargaining team.

Francisco “Junior” Cadavid is a member of the union’s bargaining committee and banquet worker at the convention center.

He has been a Sodexo employee for 18 years and knows employees who have been there longer. For them, the pension provision is “incredible,” Cadavid said.

“We made history, and we’re very proud of the work that we did,” Cadavid said.

Local 737′s agreement with Sodexo comes as the union and its other affiliates in the Service Trades Council Union have been renegotiating their contract with Walt Disney World since August.

The groups are asking Disney World to immediately raise its starting pay by $3 to $18 per hour and give workers already earning close to that amount an immediate $3 raise. Disney has proposed to gradually increase starting wages to $20 per hour over the next five years, but the unions say workers need relief from rising costs sooner.

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