They are at the bottom of America's economic ladder, and the rung beneath their feet just broke.
Many of the cooks, waiters, maids, bellhops, bartenders and others who make hotels and restaurants run are jobless, victims of the United States' steep economic decline.
"Between a third and half of the total members of our union throughout North America are laid off, and many thousands more are on short work weeks," said John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. "This is a real crisis."
The union represents 265,000 members. But most of those who clean rooms or bus tables are non-union, and they've been laid off by the hundreds of thousands too.
"The layoffs in the hotel industry are going to dwarf the layoffs in the airline industry" said Bill Crow, hotel industry analyst for Raymond James & Associates. Crow and other analysts estimate that as many as 500,000 hotel workers will lose their jobs, well above the 100,000 or so laid off from jobs in airline industry.
‘This Was My Dream’
Hotel occupancy is well below last year's level, according to Smith Travel Research, which covers the hotel industry. Nationwide, occupancy at all hotels was off 16.5 percent last week. Economy chains were doing better, down just 8.8 percent from year-ago levels. Upscale hotels were hurting the most.
The ripples from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States can be felt in hotels across the country.
Starwood Hotels laid off 10,200 employees. The MGM Mirage in Las Vegas shed 6,000 jobs. Half of all hotel workers in Boston have been furloughed. In Las Vegas and San Francisco, one-third of hotel workers are out of work, and one-quarter of Minneapolis' hotel workers have been told they're no longer needed.
"This was my dream, and I got it. And I'm doing fine until Sept. 11," said Johannes Gezu, a naturalized American from Ethiopia who was working at a hotel in Chicago as a room-service waiter. Gezu's wife lost her jobs at American Airlines, so the couple and their 1-year-old son are scraping by without a steady income.
Just as the travel industry wants federal help, so do their workers — at least an extension of their health insurance.
"Unless there's immediate help in terms of health care and in terms of supplemental federal unemployment from Washington, many of these folks are going to very quickly be homeless," said Wilhelm.
ABCNEWS' Dean Reynolds and Ramona Schindelheim contributed to this report.