Relief may be in sight for the thousands of low-wage hospitality workers who spend up to four hours commuting to and from Miami Beach every day.
A proposed ballot initiative by union Unite Here Local 355, the only hotel worker union in Miami-Dade County, would require that some large hotels on Miami Beach provide transportation for their employees through monthly transit passes, ride-sharing credits or vanpool shuttles.
On Wednesday afternoon, during rush hour traffic at a popular parking lot for hotel workers on Collins Avenue, a group of more than 70 union members, hotel employees and community supporters gathered to announce the details of the union’s initiative. The plan requires nearly 4,500 signatures from registered Beach voters before it can proceed to the 2018 Miami Beach ballot.
11 Number of hotels in Mid-Beach that will have to provide transportation to their employees under Unite Here Local 355’s proposed ballot initiative
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Under Unite Here’s proposal, only hotels in Mid-Beach — on Collins Avenue between 23rd and 63rd Streets — with more than 250 rooms would apply — 11 properties in all. The union chose the area because it is home to some of the largest hotels in the Beach, including the 1,504-room Fontainebleau and 631-room Eden Roc, and employs about 6,000 hotel workers.
Under the proposal, only hotel employees who work an average of at least 10 hours per week, and who aren’t offered parking by their employer within a quarter mile of the hotel, would be eligible to receive supplemental parking credits. Hotels would be required to offer a transit card for public transportation — including the bus, Metrorail or Metromover — equal to the cost of Miami-Dade Transit’s monthly EasyCard — about $112. Alternatively, credits equal to that same amount could be offered for travel via ride-sharing services like Uber or for van transport services.
For decades, many large hotel employers have failed to address the impact they have on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 355
“For decades, many large hotel employers have failed to address the impact they have on the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of Unite Here Local 355. The initiative, she said, was a result of “months” of conversations with Miami Beach residents and hospitality workers.
“We are tired of empty promises [on transportation solution],” she said.
Some hotels already offer some relief for workers. The Fontainebleau, for example, has partnered with Miami-Dade Transit’s Corporate Discount Program to offer pre-tax payroll deductions on bus passes. It is working with South Florida Commuter Services to offer emergency cab rides, said Silvia Pereda, the hotel’s vice president of human resources, in May. (The hotel and the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association did not respond to requests for comment on the initiative).
But the union and its workers feel those options, and ones offered by other hotels, are not sufficient to address both the challenges to commuters and the shortages of parking on Miami Beach during high traffic times.
Transportation for workers in Miami-Dade County’s $25 billion tourism industry is an issue that grows as rents continue to rise, wages remain stagnant and inadequate public transit poses increasing challenges for commuters.
Under the union’s proposal, hotels can offer a monthly transit pass or equivalent credits for ride-sharing or vanpools.
Miami-Dade consistently ranks among the top 10 metros with the highest rental costs, but its housekeepers, for instance, get paid substantially less than those in other cities also frequently ranked among the most expensive, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That disparity pushes workers further away from the work place to more affordable neighborhoods and leads to a high number of commuters.
In all, more than 80 percent of all workers employed in Miami Beach don’t live there.
For low-wage workers, public transit is the most affordable – albeit the most arduous — solution to transportation. In a May Miami Herald series on housekeepers in Miami Beach, several reported taking two to three buses a day just to stitch together their commute, which could stretch to three hours or more one-way depending on traffic and the reliability of buses.
For those driving into Miami Beach, many often have to illegally park in residential areas when they can’t find spaces, park in garages with steep fares — as much as $20 per day — or circle the area for long periods of time, the union said. A 2015 parking study commissioned by Miami Beach found that during peak hours, at noon, 99 percent of all parking spaces in Mid-Beach were occupied.
Several neighborhood associations, including the Bay Drive West Neighborhood Association and the Biscayne Beach Neighborhood Association, have supported the union’s initiative in hopes that it will ease parking challenges in Miami Beach.
We feel the reduction of car ownership would help. [Parking] for the residents is a huge problem.
Neil Butterfield, president of the Biscayne Beach Neighborhood Association, which supports the union’s initiative
Neil Butterfield, president of the Biscayne Beach Neighborhood Association, said Wednesday that because of the parking limitations on Biscayne Beach, he hopes the initiative will encourage hospitality workers who live there to go car-less.
“We feel the reduction of car ownership would help,” Butterfield said. “[Parking] for the residents is a huge problem.”
Under the proposal, hotels that don’t offer transit credits could instead opt to pay an annual fee of about $800 per eligible employee to the city of Miami Beach for future parking and transit initiatives in Mid-Beach.
The union said that if it collects the necessary signatures, the earliest the measure could go to voters would be August 2018.
Hotels that would be required to provide employee transportation under union proposal
▪ The Palms Hotel & Spa (251 rooms ) — 3025 Collins Ave.
▪ Holiday Inn Miami Beach Oceanfront (252 rooms) — 4333 Collins Ave.
▪ Hotel Riu Plaza (284 rooms) — 3101 Collins Ave.
▪ Miami Beach Edition (294 rooms) — 2901 Collins Ave.
▪ Courtyard Cadillac (355 rooms) — 3925 Collins Ave.
▪ The Confidante (380 rooms) — 4041 Collins Ave.
▪ 1 Hotel South Beach (423 rooms) — 2341 Collins Ave.
▪ Miami Beach Resort (424 rooms) — 4833 Collins Ave.
▪ Grand Beach Hotel (430 rooms) — 4835 Collins Ave.
▪ Eden Roc (631 rooms) — 4525 Collins Ave.
▪ Fontainebleau Resort (1,504 rooms) — 4441 Collins Ave.