Union claims a shameful history is repeating itself in Colonial Williamsburg

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PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Patrick Henry’s proclamation, “Give me liberty or give me death,” brings cheers, but a slave auction that tore families apart brings tears in Colonial Williamsburg.

Today, some say a shameful history is repeating itself in the Colonial Capital due to a forced six-day workweek.

John Boardman is the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of Unite Here Local 25.

“Their bodies are breaking down. They are not able to spend time with families. Children are not getting their parents home in one piece so that they can do homework together,” said Boardman in a Zoom interview.

colonial williamsburg_553325

And, just like in colonial times, says Boardman, many of the workers are Black.

“In particular African Americans and that is in fact is the history of Colonial Williamsburg, which in part, in our opinion, is so disturbing,” said Boardman.

On Saturday, at the kick-off of the Grand Illumination, workers will gather at S. England St. and Newport Avenue to protest low wages, long hours, and other issues. This year, the holiday celebration spans three weeks.

(Photo courtesy: Colonial Williamsburg)

Late Friday, after initially declining an interview opportunity, Colonial Williamsburg offered to provide an executive to speak on the ongoing contract talks. Because of the deadline, WAVY declined and offered to interview Colonial Williamsburg officials for a follow-up story. 10 On Your Side will continue to follow the negotiations as they affect the historic area and the contract employees who work there.

“[We are] unable to agree to provisions that, for example, would allow union representatives from Washington D.C to interrupt our employees in their work areas during work hours to discuss union business.”

Read the full statement from Colonial Williamsburg here:

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Ongoing Negotiations with Unite Here Local 25

Negotiations include Colonial Williamsburg’s continued efforts to give material pay raises to employees

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (Dec. 3, 2021) –The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has negotiated in good faith with Unite Here Local 25 over more than 18 negotiation sessions since May to renew its contract for Colonial Williamsburg’s hospitality employees. The current contract expired Nov. 30 and both organizations mutually agreed to continue negotiations. Despite this, union leaders have taken to social media demanding a contract and are now planning a protest during Grand Illumination.

To set the record straight, Colonial Williamsburg has been trying for many months to give material pay raises to union employees, who have worked hard and endured much throughout the pandemic. They are very deserving of a wage increase—which we are eager to provide—as we already did for our non-union employees earlier this year. We are hopeful to reach agreement with the union’s negotiators soon so that we can finally enact these pay raises, ahead of the December holidays.

In the meantime, we will continue negotiating with Unite Here Local 25 to reach a contract that treats union employees fairly while also allowing Colonial Williamsburg the opportunity to succeed in the challenging environment we all face. We have already agreed to many of the union’s demands but are unable to agree to provisions that, for example, would allow union representatives from Washington D.C to interrupt our employees in their work areas during work hours to discuss union business, or eliminate the use of temporary employees, who play an important role in easing the workloads of Colonial Williamsburg employees during busy times of the year. We are frustrated that issues like these have slowed down our ability to give our hardworking employees a long-overdue raise.

Colonial Williamsburg believes strongly that our employees—for whom we are very grateful—should not be penalized financially as a result of this disagreement with the union. Going public with our disagreements is not how we had hoped to continue these negotiations with the union, but Foundation leaders are committed to working hard to get a fair agreement.

  Ellen Morgan Peltz, Colonial Williamsburg

Regina Mobley: “Is this your move of last resort — to host a protest on grand illumination weekend?”

John Boardman: “That’s a great question and we have been trying to encourage the employer to think about this issue of forced work.”

Both sides say negotiations will continue as the previous multi-year deal expired on November 30.

Read the full news release from Local 25:

Colonial Williamsburg Workers to Rally Saturday for Fair Wages, Better Treatment during Grand Illumination
Hospitality workers at Colonial Williamsburg have gone from extended lay-offs during the pandemic to brutally long work weeks. Now, they’re fighting for a strong contract with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation that addresses their challenging working conditions.
WHO: 100s of Colonial Williamsburg workers from the hotels and restaurants in the Historic District. They are represented by UNITE HERE Local 25, a hospitality workers union.
WHERE & WHEN: Saturday, December 4th from 12 pm
-1 pm on the Northwest corner of S. England Street and Newport Avenue, Williamsburg, VA 23185
WHAT: Hear directly from Colonial Williamsburg workers about their working conditions, and what’s at stake for them in the current round of contract negotiations.
WHY: Hospitality workers in Colonial Williamsburg have made sacrifices for decades to help keep the Hospitality Division of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation afloat. Now, as they return to work after a devastating pandemic and the industry bounces back, they’re calling for the wages and treatment at work that they deserve. The CW workers want better pay, more affordable healthcare, an end to mandatory overtime, and to be able to spend more time with their families and loved ones.
VISUALS: Workers chanting, sharing their stories, and leafletting outside banquet dinners during the Grand Illumination celebrations.

UNITE HERE Local 25 is a hospitality workers union that represents 7,200 members in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC
John Boardman Ex sec l treasurer


Clarification: The initial version of this story online and on-air said Colonial Williamsburg refused an interview. Late Friday, after initially declining an interview opportunity, Colonial Williamsburg offered to provide an executive to speak on the ongoing contract talks. Because of the deadline, WAVY declined and offered to interview Colonial Williamsburg officials for a follow-up story. 10 On Your Side will continue to follow the negotiations as they affect the historic area and the contract employees who work there.

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