The Finance Committee had to move to the full Council Chambers to accommodate the 30 Royal Hospitality workers there to show support for keeping Royal Hospitality in Somerville.
The plot of land Royal Hospitality Services, Inc. (RHSI) occupies is part of the D3 block of the Union Square Redevelopment
, which is being rezoned for up to 10 stories of commercial use, six stories of residential use, parking, and ground floor retail, and so may face displacement between 2021 and 2024.
“I put in this order because in the Union Square Redevelopment one of the issues we’re always talking about is bringing commercial development to Somerville, which I think most of us are on board with,” said Ward 3 Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen. “The issue here is that there is an existing commercial development on the D3 block right now. There are about 300 employees, approximately 150 are Somerville residents, and it’s my understanding that the future of this facility is unclear. Myself and Councilor Scott were contacted by representatives of the workers from Royal Hospitality, and I’d like to hear directly from them tonight.”
According to Luis Cosme, Business Agent for UFCW 1445, the union representing workers at Royal Hospitality, RHSI does not want to leave Somerville either. They have a signed contract with the new Encore casino in Everett, and the location is convenient and cost efficient. Regional RHSI management was not reached for comment.
“Around 160 members work here and live here, they pay rent, and they’re ability to live here is afforded by this job,” Cosme said. “We’re just trying to keep the workforce here in Somerville; we are working to benefit the community. People want to stay here, but they feel like the city has been pushing them away.”
Sonia Melara, a Somerville resident of 10 years and RHSI employee for 13 years, was the first to speak on behalf of the workers. She spoke in Spanish, which was translated by UFCW VP Fernando Lemus.
“I come here representing myself and my coworkers because not all of them can be here today, but there are a lot of us who have worked very hard for many, many years for Royal Hospitality,” she said. “I came here to ask you to please keep Royal Hospitality here because if you don’t that would make it very hard for us to have a job and we also live here in the city and we have our kids that go to school in the City of Somerville. Our families depend on this job we ask you to please keep Royal Hospitality here in the City.”
Director of Economic Development for the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development Tom Galligani represented the administration before the Committee. He confirmed that US2 has not purchased the property, nor have they talked to the property owners recently. The City is currently reviewing a document drawn up in 2009 referencing the timelines of the Royal Hospitality’s lease in relation to projected Green Line Extension development.
“It’s definitely a priority to keep these jobs in Somerville,” Galligani said. “I feel like there’s a real opportunity here – we may have up to 5 years to work with the company to identify a space that works here in Somerville. We’d love to keep it in Somerville that way all the existing Somerville employees of which there are many can continue to have easy access to those jobs and be able to walk to work as many of them, as I understand, do right now.”
The Somerville Job Creation and Retention Trust also heard comment on this issue at their Jan. 29 meeting. Union organizer Rand Wilson shared the history of the issue and number of employees who may be impacted, and the Trustees agreed to stay updated on the subject.
“The vision of the city is to create the sort of jobs that are in the location of the laundry right now that are lab jobs or tech jobs that are good jobs but unfortunately displace our jobs at Royal Hospitality who would not have access to those jobs,” said UFCW 1445 Political Director Jim Carvalho. “These are community jobs, good, blue-collar, middle-class jobs and while we do appreciate the needs of cities like Somerville to grow and change over time, the unfortunate side effect of that sometimes is that you displace a lot of blue collar jobs with white collar jobs. We are hoping that working with the city we can find any ways possible to keep Royal Hospitality located in Somerville.”