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Hotel workers struggle amid coronavirus resurgence

Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 12:41 PM CST
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NEW YORK (CNN) - The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the hotel industry in the U.S.

Many properties remain closed, and thousands of people that worked in hospitality are unemployed. With the holidays approaching, the impact is even more painful.

Jesus Morales looks forward to the bustle of the holidays at Chicago’s historic Drake Hotel. Customer demands and long hours are tiring – but financially rewarding.

“Last year I was making good money. But it’s gone. I don’t know when I’m going back to work,” Morales said.

This year, there’s no holiday bonus. He’s worked here for 33 years but was furloughed in March.

The Drake is one of Chicago’s top hotels, where highly-trained employees serve an elite clientele. But this year, there are very few of both.

“My savings is gone. My under the pillow money is gone.” Morales said.

The hotel industry has lost more than 650,000 jobs during the pandemic, with 4 in 10 hotel workers like Morales, still out of work.

These last few months have been taxing – emotionally and financially. His daughter is recovering from an accident, and his wife needs daily medication.

“I don’t have health insurance right now. My insurance ran out like a month ago. To get my insurance, it cost about $1,200 a month, and there’s just no way I can pay that,” he said.

In New York, iconic hotels are shutting their doors. The Plaza is temporarily closed, the Roosevelt permanently, and the Fitzpatrick Grand Central Hotel is running at 15% occupancy, while sister hotel is shuttered.

“It’s very eerie. It is costing a lot of money to stay closed, and every month it’s just drain, drain drain. Its just in your blood. As a hotelier, you never close your front door,” said John Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitzpatrick Hotels North America.

Just 25 of Fitzpatrick’s 175 employees are working.

Bilal Yayla was recently called back to tend the bar, but he says without tips, his income has dropped by more than 50%.

“I was out of work for, uh, almost three months also,” he said. “We lost our insurance, and I have had two babies at home.”

In Miami, Jenny Brody has won awards as an elite concierge at the St. Regis Bal Harbor, but she and her husband were both furloughed from their hotel jobs in March.

He found a temporary job in October. She’s still looking.

“You just kind of go into panic mode, like, ‘Did we save enough for this rainy day?’ so to speak, but really, 2020 is becoming ... a rainy year.” Brody said.

At the end of this year, dozens of federal protections for those out of work expire. For millions of americans like Morales, it is not the new year he was expecting.

“Since I was 17 I have been working at least two jobs until now, so I’ve been paying taxes for 46 years. You are trying to be the best citizen of the United States that you can, and it’s just frustrating that the government isn’t doing much for the hard-working people,” he said.

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