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9228: Tourism lag deals blow to S. Florida Haitians, limits cash sent , t o families (fwd)

From: Merrie Archer <MArcher@nchr.org>

Tourism lag deals blow to S. Florida Haitians, limits cash sent to families
By Gregory Lewis
Staff Writer

October 10, 2001

Even when she was working 40 hours a week, making ends meet was tough on a
hotel maid's salary. But life for the Haitian woman, a wife and mother of a
2-year-old child, turned tougher three weeks ago when the hotel cut her
hours from 40 a week to three days on call, eliminating her benefits and
hinting she may not get any work at all.

She's not alone.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, life for many Haitians living in South
Florida has become a financial struggle, one that is also being felt in
their native land. Family and friends in Haiti rely on dollars from the
United States to help them survive in their country, where unemployment is
as high as 70 percent.

Now, with job cuts and reduced hours for tourism workers, sending money home
is a luxury few can afford.

Taxi drivers at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport complain about getting
no more than one fare a day, and airport skycaps say their tips have
plummeted by as much as 75 percent. Tips are factored into their otherwise
below-minimum-wage salaries. Karlie Richardson, deputy director of the
Haitian American Community Council, a one-stop resource center in Delray
Beach, said her agency provided emergency money for 17 families to buy
groceries during the last week of September. She said normally the center
gives emergency assistance to four families a month.

"We were really overwhelmed the last week of September," Richardson said.
"It's been detrimental for people who work at the airport, in hotels and
restaurants. They had to go out and try to find other work. We try to assist
them in finding jobs, and we refer them to job training."

>From Sept. 11 to Sept. 27, eating and drinking establishments lost more than
70,000 jobs statewide, including almost 21,000 waiter and waitress
positions. Hotels and motels lost 38,700 jobs, including almost 8,500 maids.

Broward County Administrator Roger Desjarlais acknowledged that the tourism
industry overall is suffering.

"Reduced flights and passenger loads goes deeply into the community for
those who work in the service occupations like housekeeping and wait staff,
and they are more adversely affected," he said. Desjarlais said there is no
data on particular groups.

But Jean Jabouin, executive director of the Caribbean Cultural Coalition,
has no doubt Haitians fall into that group of most adversely affected.

When they first arrive in the United States, many Haitians and others from
the Caribbean work in minimum-wage jobs that do not require licensing,
testing or English skills.

"Many of the Haitians in the Fort Lauderdale area work in tourism, mainly at
the bottom of the totem pole," Jabouin said.

"They're housekeepers, cooks, chefs, [and] as a result of tourism in South
Florida being greatly affected. Instead of the industry absorbing the blow,
it has resulted in laying off and firing the last hired, mainly Haitians."

The hotel housekeeper, who is 28, was a dressmaker in her native Haiti.
Because she could read and write, she got into political trouble with the
government, she said through an interpreter. Fearful that her hours would be
reduced even more for speaking out, she asked that her name not be used.

A legal refugee, she came to Broward County in 1999 with her husband and an
infant child and found work as a housekeeper at a Hampton Inn. Her husband
works construction when he can find jobs. But for the past three months, she
has been the family breadwinner and has been unable to send money back home
to dependent family members.

"It's impacting our community," said François Leconte of Minority
Development and Empowerment Inc., a Haitian resource center in northeast
Fort Lauderdale that offers job training and placement.

"We have 300 to 400 Haitian taxi cab drivers at the airport who can't make a
living lately. And that has an impact on our economy back home," Leconte
said. "Life stopped on Sept. 11. The country closed in Haiti that day."

In 2000, Haitians living in the United States sent back about $699 million,
according to the central bank in Haiti.

Twenty hours after the attacks on the United States, Haiti's currency fell
by more than 4 percent and has continued to plummet.

Economists blamed the drop in part on the freeze on commercial flights
between the United States and Haiti, which prevented Haitians Americans --
and their money -- from returning home.

Jabouin, a Haitian who also hosts a radio talk show on WSRF 1580AM in Fort
Lauderdale, said that during the past few weeks, listeners have called in to
discuss their tenuous work situations.

"What's interesting about this [is] instead of management making the
decision to cut their salaries in order to make room for somebody to keep a
job, they have knee-jerk reactions and get rid of workers."

The woman who had been reduced to on-call maid status sat sadly in the
Haitian Community Center last week, discussing her situation with

The center now has more clients seeking employment than businesses seeking
employees. Hotels and restaurants have stopped calling. So the center didn't
have any job to send the woman to last week.

"She is only one case," said Carole Magnan, the center's coordinator for
economic development. "In the past three weeks, we've had eight people lose
jobs that we trained [them for] last month. Mostly housekeeping jobs. All of
them are calling. They are laid off. They hadn't reached 30 days on the

Airport food services that used to beg for daily help to fill certain shifts
no longer make such requests to the center.

Skycaps Roger Franklin, a native of Barbados, and Idevert Utile, who is
Haitian, agreed.

They were out of work when the airport closed and curbside service was
temporarily suspended. But even though they were back at work last week,
Franklin said there were so few travelers, he would be lucky if he made $25
in tips.

He said while the airport was closed he stripped wax from floors and helped
put in a sprinkler system -- "any odd jobs I could find" -- to help him pay
his mortgage, car note and the college tuition bill for his son.

"While everyone is paying attention to big business like the airlines, our
people are the real victims," Leconte said. "The airlines can go to the
Congress. Our people don't have that access. So we've lost jobs and will be
homeless two or three weeks from now."

Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4203 
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel <http://www.sunsentinel.com>