It is nearly a week after Hurricane Nate was supposed to hit New Orleans. Nate was rated as a category two hurricane and yet the bosses and city officials still forced their workers to come into work. Thankfully, nothing came about and everyone was safe. The city imposed a curfew and threatened to arrest those who stayed out past the curfew. Officials were not threatening tourists with arrest as they assured them that New Orleans was here to take care of the 40,000 tourists who remained.
What they meant by “New Orleans” was the 88,000 restaurant and hotel workers who allow this city to be the 7th most visited destination in the world. City officials called for workers to “make proper arrangements” as there would be no public transit and no taxis. We were expected to be at work, but had no means of getting there and back. City officials not only put our lives in danger, but also our family members were also put at risk, as they were the ones responsible for driving their loved ones there and back. If Hurricane Nate had hit, many would have lost their vehicles and would have received no compensation from the city.
If we are scheduled for a shift then how can we evacuate? Evacuating and missing a shift will likely end in termination. There are many folks who say, “Well, just get a different job.” The tourism industry is New Orleans biggest industry and many are unable to get a different type of job. More importantly, the entire state of Louisiana relies on New Orleans’ tourism economy and our economy would intensely suffer without our labor.
But while we have to accept stagnant meager wages, we have to constantly accommodate for New Orleans' rising cost of living, making us barely get by living from paycheck to paycheck. A natural disaster such as this can be completely devastating to one’s livelihood. Missing out on weekend shifts cuts heavily into one’s paycheck and many workers are facing the financial consequences of Hurricane Nate. Front of house workers would have been making $2.13 an hour and back of house workers would be making a measly hourly amount somewhere between $7.25 and $13 during this natural disaster. The New Orleans hospitality industry generated a total of $7.4 billion dollars last year and restaurant and hotel owners can definitely afford to issue Natural Disaster Pay for situations like this. Owners should close their restaurants and hotels when hurricanes come to town and they should pay workers who were scheduled to work.
We are constantly being exploited and when a natural disaster hits this exploitation is much more intense. There could have been many tragedies and losses if Hurricane Nate had hit and restaurant and hotel owners along with city officials who allowed for their opening would have been to blame.