Why We Need a Hospitality Workers Union in Tompkins County

by Korbin Richards

Service is power. Does that surprise you? If you think about it, it starts to make sense. After three years serving coffee and meeting countless people who have worked in the hospitality industry, I’ve noticed that the reality of our work doesn’t match up with how we’re perceived and treated by

Gimme! Coffee Barista, Korbin Richards, at 2017 Labor Day Picnic, Flexing Muscle

our bosses and various customers. When people call our work “high school” or “easy,” or “low-value,” we laugh, jaded by the unending workflow, stress, and aching back and feet that every hospitality worker understands. We’re overworked and underpaid, from the college grad waiting tables, to the immigrant without documentation cooking in the back, and we know that we deserve better.

The punch line is that many of us genuinely love our work and thus accommodate the systemic abuse that the industry uses to keep us down. I’m here to tell you that the power to change the system, to uplift the industry, has been under our noses this whole time. Our power is in our service, in our labor, the labor that keeps the industry’s wheel turning. It all starts with us, with our daily experiences and our shared narrative.

Together, we’ll change the industry. Together, we will realize our collective power, that together we will recreate an industry that respects us, honors our dignity, and recognizes that the true power lies with us, not the few positioned up top. Change is coming like a wind, and with a tree whose roots run strong and deep it’s the top branches that fall. The movement is here, and roots are already in place. Now we grow.

If YOU are a hospitality worker and would like to get more information about how to change your workplace for the better in Tompkins County, please visit the Tompkins County Workers’ Center at 115 The Commons; or call us at 607-269-0409 or email TCWRH@tcworkersenter.org.

(Korbin Richards has worked as a barista at Gimme! Coffee for the past three years, and is a founding member of the Gimme! Coffee Baristas Union, Local 2833. Korbin is ALSO taking a lead role in creating the larger Hospitality Workers Union. She can be reached at korbin.richards@gmail.com)