Unite Here!, downtown service workers fighting 'tip theft'

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If you find yourself wandering the River Walk or downtown streets in the coming days, chances are you'll run into one of these ballot box-strapped organizers (pictured above). Mostly downtown service workers and organizers with Unite Here!, here's a very crude breakdown of what they'll ask: When you get a “service charge” on your bill, don't you assume that's a tip? The organizers claim downtown's Grand Hyatt has for years been misleading guests and stiffing workers, pocketing a 22 percent “service charge” for dinners and events rather than giving it to workers. Some Hyatt workers claim management even tells them to lie to customers who ask if the service charge is a tip for workers. Unite Here! organizers continue to claim the practice amounts to "tip theft." At an organizing meeting earlier this year, one Hyatt banquet server produced contracts between customers and hotel event planners specifically barring jars to collect tips for workers. Unite Here! is hoping to pressure city leaders to pass what it's calling “Mi TIA,” or the Tip Integrity Act, a local ordinance that would force the Hyatt (along with other hotels, restaurants, and bars) to disclose to customers whether a “service charge” actually goes to pay out workers or, as is current practice, gets kicked back to management. The organizers will be downtown Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week gathering signatures for a petition asking Council to move on the issue. Unite Here says several local electeds have already signed pledges of support, among them Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. The group hopes to get downtown Councilman Diego Bernal, who has also signed on to support the effort, to file and carry the local ordinance through City Council. -- Michael Barajas

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