By Aria Rostami
April 20, 2010
LGBTQ and labor rights groups gathered at Pier 33 yesterday to protest Alcatraz Cruises, a subsidiary of Hornblower Cruises, for its firing of Vincent Atos, a union organizer who was allegedly “acting too gay.”
In October 2009, Alcatraz Cruises filed a sexual harassment case against Atos. He was subsequently suspended for fifteen days.
“They wouldn’t tell me what the nature was or who complained. They just asked me weird questions about myself and my behavior,” claims Atos, who had been working for Hornblower Cruises for three years and has been in the industry for about ten years.
The “weird” questions Atos is referring to were related to his sexual orientation, Atos said. Following his fifteen-day suspension and investigation, human resources claimed that fellow employees found Atos’ behavior to be inappropriate. Yet, this claim seems suspect considering Atos was voted “Employee of the Year” by his fellow co-workers.
As many as 50 people attended the protest including Josue Arguelles, who is a representative for San Francisco Pride at Work, a queer branch of the labor movement.
“Vincent was given the Employee of the Year award and he had a really good relationship with most, if not all, of his co-workers, I understand, from hearing from his co-workers and his statement with the Human Rights Commission,” Arguelles said
“Most of the other heterosexual behavior is tolerated that he mentioned,” added Arguelles, “such as looking up pornography and making degrading comments towards women. But being flamboyant, or as they called it, ‘limp wrist,’ supposedly offends the workers and clientele and makes for an uncomfortable work environment. I think that’s BS.”
Arguelles, who has had experience with similar discriminatory cases, speculates the sexual harassment charges may have been used by Alcatraz Cruises when it was discovered that Atos was one of the leaders trying to organize a union. Arguelles finds it odd that after three years of employment, Atos is only now being called out on being “too gay.”
For its part, Alcatraz Cruises spokesperson Tegan Firth told FCJ: “The company has a zero-tolerance harassment policy and there is no discrimination whatsoever,” but could not comment on the Atos case due to confidentiality restrictions.
In response to the claims about pornography and sexism in the workplace that was mentioned by several speakers, Firth stated, “I have absolutely zero experience with that. I’ve worked here for about four years and I have never seen anything like that at all, or anything close to those claims.”
“Worker’s Rights and Queer Rights are connected the same way we fight for Immigrant’s Rights,” said Reverend Israel Alvaran, a representative for Unite Here Local 2. “All these are issues of justice, and like what Martin Luther King said, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”
Reverend Alvaran discussed some of the benefits LGBT Local 2 workers receive. “In the absence of federal marriage equality, we have domestic partnership benefits for workers. So, if they get healthcare for their job as a hotel worker, their partner also gets that. Our Union has an HIV fund. On top of healthcare, you get an extra $1,000 a month if you are afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Having a union at the workplace gives you rights, not just that of a worker, but also that of a queer person,” he said.
Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club Co-President David Waggoner believes Atos was fired primarily because Atos was attempting to unionize the workforce. “Vincent was singled out because he is gay and he was union organizer and he was fired because of that,” he said.
“Times have changed. We want the National Parks Service to either end their contract with Alcatraz Cruises or investigate and bring charges, as appropriate, so Alcatraz Cruises can become a workplace that is safe for people that want to organize, and is safe for LGBT employees,” Waggoner added.