Graduate workers present hotel with complaint letter over mistreatment

Current and former kitchen staff of the Graduate hotel allege that they had no breaks, as well as other mistreatment by management.


The Graduate Iowa City is seen on Tuesday Feb. 12, 2019.

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

Graduate Hotel workers confronted their employers on Tuesday, alleging mistreatment and an uncomfortable working environment.

The workers reached out to the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa to help organize into a delegation to submit a letter of complaint to the Graduate management. The delegation appeared at the Graduate at noon to present their letter.

The Daily Iowan reached out to the Graduate for comment and was offered no statements at this time.

One of the workers, a kitchen cook named Yoni, said with the aid of a translator that he and other Spanish-speaking workers in the kitchen reported issues including inappropriate touching and no OSHAA-required no bathroom breaks or breaks in general during 10 hour shifts, and being given “extra busy work.”

He said he has worked in multiple kitchens around Iowa City and has not had an experience like he’s had at the Graduate.

Yoni also said communication between the Spanish-speaking workers and the management was an issue.

He said Spanish-speaking workers communicate via group text with a manager, so the texts could then be translated from English to Spanish. One day, Yoni said he had to take the day off and notified his manager over text. After that, Yoni said management presented him with a disciplinary letter for using text instead of calling to notify his manager, which the manager said was a violation of an employment bylaw.

He said he requested the disciplinary letter be translated to Spanish, but the Graduate did not do this for him.

“It feels like they’re coming after me because I’m Hispanic and don’t have a support system,” Yoni said. “I’ve never had a work environment like this.”

It feels like they’re coming after me because I’m Hispanic and don’t have a support system. I’ve never had a work environment like this.

— Yoni, a kitchen worker

Along with inappropriate touching and no breaks, Yoni also said he was called a monkey and a drug dealer. According to the complaint letter, other workers have reported being called those names, as well.

According to the letter, workers have also reported that their women co-workers faced sexual jokes and comments by managers and have quit as a result.

“We expect the management at the Graduate to fully investigate and address these concerns, respect its workers’ dignity, and comply with the law,” Rafael Morataya, Executive Director for the CWJ, said in the letter to the Graduate.

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Montaser Mousa, former dishwasher for the Graduate, with the aid of a translator, said he worked at the hotel while it was the Sheraton, and had never experienced treatment like he had at the Graduate.

Mousa said he worked at the Sheraton since August of 2017, was laid off when the hotel closed, and was rehired when the Graduate opened. He said he saw no issues at first, but management problems started to show when more kitchen staff – who he said are mostly immigrants – were hired.

Mousa said he was facing long shifts with no breaks, inconsistent scheduling, and “extra work” outside of his job description. One example of the extra work Mousa said was working the Graduate bar, despite being religiously restricted from handling alcohol.

“When I worked at the Sheraton, I would get seven to ten hours a day and get paid overtime like usual.” Mousa said. “My schedule is changed and manipulated now, and I don’t know how long I will be working or even if I will be working.”

Mousa said he submitted his 10-day notice in January.

“I’m a hard worker, I can do it all, but I need fair treatment in my workplace,” Mousa said.