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Hotel workers march for better working conditions

Other labor unions lend support in push for contract

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Hotel workers march for better working conditions
Unite Here Local 26 President Brian Lang (left) joins hotel workers in a sit-in demonstration on Huntington Avenue. No arrests were made. Banner Photo

Hundreds of hotel workers marched through Back Bay on Labor Day in a bid for better working conditions and pay before demonstrating in front of the Boston Sheraton Hotel where Unite Here Local 26 President Brian Lang announced the hotel workers would take a Sept. 12 vote to strike against the Marriott Hotel chain.

Sprinkler Fitters union member Chaton Green speaks during a rally in Copley Square. Banner Photo

Sprinkler Fitters union member Chaton Green speaks during a rally in Copley Square. Banner Photo

“If there is a strike, it’s going to be one like the city has never seen,” Lang said, as the crowd of labor activists chanted “Strike, strike, strike!”

“We’re not just hotel workers,” Lang continued. “We are service workers, like SEIU. We are the health care workers who work two jobs when one job should be enough.”

The hotel workers were joined by a coalition of labor groups, including SEIU 615, building trades workers, Boston Teachers Union members and others who had gathered for a rally in Copley Square. Many carried signs with the hotel workers’ slogan, “One job should be enough.”

“It’s getting harder and harder for workers to provide for their families,” said SEIU 615 Vice President Roxana Rivera, who marched with the hotel workers. “In the service industry, too often workers have to work multiple jobs.”

The hotels in which Unite Here members work are making it difficult for workers to provide for their families, activists say. Soinelda Pabon, who works at the Westin Boston on the waterfront, says the company’s Green Choice program, which encourages guests to decline housekeeping, has cut into many workers’ hours.

“Fewer of us get 40-hour weeks,” she said. “It’s getting worse than ever.”

Monday’s show of force by Boston labor activists comes during a period of strong anti-labor sentiment in the nation’s capital. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case, which bars public sector unions from collecting dues from employees who don’t wish to pay them, is the most visible setback for labor unions in recent years.

demonstrators march on Huntington Avenue. Banner Photo

demonstrators march on Huntington Avenue. Banner Photo

But Boston labor activists say their unions are experiencing growth as more workers seek help improving their working conditions and pay.

The Boston Teachers Union has so far had 95 percent of its members sign cards pledging support for the union, according to Lea Serena, a union representative at the Mather elementary school in Dorchester. Additionally, teachers at two Roxbury charter schools voted to join the Boston Teachers Union earlier this year.

“We’re really excited that the charter schools are joining us,” Serena said. “They were eager to sign on.”

Although the Janus decision only applies to public sector workers, unions representing private sector employees also are feeling pressure from businesses, according to Rivera.

“Employers are more emboldened by Janus,” she said. “We’re seeing a climate change.”

Massachusetts Avenue; Brian Lang addresses demonstrators outside the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Banner Photo

Massachusetts Avenue; Brian Lang addresses demonstrators outside the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Banner Photo

Rivera’s union, too, is growing, with security guards, adjunct professors and airport workers recently joining SEIU locals. Rivera points to the airport workers to underscore what she says is a growth in anti-worker sentiment among corporations. Those workers, who do not yet have a contract, are fighting multiple violations of existing labor laws, including wage violations, denial of sick days, violations of OSHA safety standards and sexual harassment.

“If workers don’t stand up for each other, nobody will make the right decision,” Rivera said. “They have to do it for themselves.”

Massachusetts Avenue; Brian Lang addresses demonstrators outside the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Banner Photo

Massachusetts Avenue; Brian Lang addresses demonstrators outside the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Banner Photo

Chinese Progressive Association Executive Director Karen Chen said stagnant wages and difficult working conditions in hotels and other sectors have pushed more Chinese American workers to participate in acts of civil disobedience, such as a sit-in that the hotel workers undertook on Huntington Avenue Monday.

“This is the first time we’ve seen such large numbers of Chinese workers supporting civil disobedience,” she said. “Things are bad, but we’re rising.”

Chen said the hotel workers have been meeting with home health aides to share strategies and information.

“It makes a difference for them to know that they’re not doing this alone and that other workers have their back,” she said.

Lang says the hotel workers are feeling pinched by owners who are making record profits.

“They’ve made more money off our work in the last five years than at any other time,” he said. “Our demands are modest, and we’re getting no respect.”

Lang said he expects that striking hotel workers will receive support from multiple unions as well as all sympathetic Bostonians.

“We are going to galvanize not just every union, but every fair-minded person in this city to do what’s right,” he said.

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