With labor negotiations heating up between the UNITE HERE labor union and Marriott International in eight U.S. cities, the specter of a strike later this summer is of course possible, but an increase in potentially disruptive worker actions seem more and more likely, at least from the labor side of the equation.
“The strike specifics are a long way down the line,” said Ted Waechter, a communications officer with UNTE HERE Local 2. “Our contract in San Francisco doesn’t expire until Aug. 14 but there’s a sense that workers want to be heard. There’s no possibility of a strike until Aug. 14, but there are possibilities of disruptions, and our members are prepared to fight for their livelihood--the ball is really in Marriott’s court.”
According to a UNITE HERE press release, published July 9, 2018, union contracts for Marriott hotels in Boston, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle and various locations in Hawaii have expired. Union contracts for seven Marriott hotels in San Francisco are set to expire on August 15.
Centralized Travel Alerts
UNITE HERE launched a centralized travel alert site, www.MarriottTravelAlert.org, where “travelers, meeting planners and groups” can monitor the status of disputes at Marriott hotels in each city. The hotels affected and status information is available at this UNITE HERE website.
[Related Content: UNITE HERE Launches Marriott Travel Advisories]
The site also includes contract language for meeting planners to consider using in the event of a labor dispute and a pledge for customers to sign committing to honor any boycott or strike that might arise. The pledge also ties into the fight for stronger sexual harassment protections at Marriott hotels.
For its part, Marriott International responded to Meetings Today with the following statement:
Labor contracts with Unite Here-represented employees at 40 of approximately 850 Marriott International hotels in the U.S. and Canada are scheduled for renewal this year, with some of those negotiations already underway. Marriott International has longstanding and productive relationships with Unite Here and is negotiating in good faith and in a timely fashion to obtain the best outcomes for our associates and guests.
The strength of Marriott International is rooted in our core value of putting people first. We respect the right of our associates to voice opinions during this process just as we take seriously our responsibility to serve our guests. We will remain focused on both goals during these important talks and beyond.
Contracts up for negotiation this year include some but not all Marriott properties in cities including Toronto, Boston, Honolulu, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Worker worries can seem to have as much to do with the economic situations in the cities they work in—lower-wage workers are being pushed out of cities such as San Francisco and Boston as rents skyrocket—as they do with the largest hotel company in the world. But hotel companies such as Marriott, like its competitors and other businesses in the U.S., are experiencing boom economic times that workers don’t see trickling down to them.
[Related Content: Why Unions, Planners and Suppliers Need to Get Along]
Two workers interviewed for this story, one in San Francisco and one in Boston, detailed the struggles they endure just to take care of their families, by having long commutes and having to work more than one job to make ends meet.
“I have to do an extra job after work, cleaning a laundromat,” said Larrilou Carumba, a single mother of three who works at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. “I work nine to five at Marriott, go home, pick up my son at 6 o’clock…make food for them, and then work in laundromat till 9:30 or 10. I really don’t have time for my kids, or even time for myself. I can’t have my own life anymore.
“Marriott is a good company; it’s a big company, and they can pay us more,” Carumba added. “They pay $3 more for employees without a union. … Even with the wage increases that have been so hard fought from our last contract campaign, it’s still impossible to live in San Francisco and raise a family unless you have another job.”
For Courtney Leonard, a waitress who has worked at the Westin Boston Waterfront for seven years, coming to work every day means a 100-mile commute because of the city’s high home prices.
“It can take four or five hours in the morning because traffic is so bad,” Leonard said. “There’s no way with what I get paid now that I could even afford a studio than buy a home. One job should be enough. You should be able to live in the city where you work and provide for your family.
“I’ve never seen a picket line,” Leonard continued. “I’ve never had to take part in a picket line in the seven years I’ve been there. Boston is booming now in terms of hotels, but people are stuck and moving backwards, and we don’t want to move backwards anymore, that’s why one job should be enough.”
Worker Actions Heating Up
While the possibility of a strike is still relatively remote at this stage of negotiations, Leonard believes that labor actions will only increase as the summer goes on.
“At my property we’ve had several actions already,” Leonard said. “I’m sure it’s not going to be the last. Some are planned and some are not. I don’t know about going forward, but I’m sure there’s going to be some action. We really care about our guests, but in the end it’s very important for them to know what’s going on with their employees. We enjoy the work we do, that’s why we do it, but one job should be enough.”
Leonard is also adamant that Marriott International adopt a much stronger sexual harassment policy globally, which is a major issue in the current round of UNITE HERE negotiations.
“I had a guest follow me around for three days--grabbing at me,” she said. “I would go to management every day and they said, ‘He’s a guest here and there’s nothing we can really do about it,’ which you know is not true. They’re putting that ahead of their workers’ safety, which is not okay. It’s happening worldwide, everywhere.”