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Marriott hotel workers vote to authorize strike

Unionized hotel service workers vote in favor of strike, as contract negotiations stall

Catherine McGloin
Marriott hotel workers vote to authorize strike
Unite Here Local 26 workers turn out to vote at strike headquarters on West Street in downtown Boston. Photo: Catherine McGloin

Hotel workers voted Sept. 12 to authorize a strike at eight Boston Marriott hotels, a move local union members are ready to make if demands for better pay and working conditions are not met.

Unite Here Local 26 workers turn out to vote at strike headquarters on West Street in downtown Boston. Photo: Catherine McGloin

Unite Here Local 26 workers turn out to vote at strike headquarters on West Street in downtown Boston. Photo: Catherine McGloin

Unite Here Local 26 union members voted last Wednesday in-between shifts at eight Marriott-owned hotels: W Boston, Westin Copley, Westin Boston Waterfront, Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton Boston, Aloft, and the Element Hotel in Seaport. Representing 1,800 employees, 96 percent voted in favor of authorizing a strike, which union members said they are ready to call any day, as contract negotiations with management from Marriott International continue to stall.

“We want a portion of the wealth that our members create for Marriott,” said Unite Here Local 26 President Brian Lang. “We hope Marriott is rational, but if they’re not, then we are prepared to strike.”

Marriott International is one of the largest hotel chains in the world, with a net worth of more than $49 billion in 2017. Describing negotiations, which began in April, as the company “throwing pennies across the table at us,” Lang hopes this vote will give workers the leverage needed to secure increased hourly wages, guaranteed 40-hour working weeks, improvements in health care and pension provisions, and representation in future discussions about the integration of technology and environmental programs which may adversely affect workers.

“Throughout our longstanding relationship with Local 26, we have always taken the negotiation process seriously and reached agreements,” a Marriott spokesperson told the Banner. “We have no reason to believe that this negotiation process will be any different.” While acknowledging there are still significant issues to resolve, the spokesperson added, “We respect the right of our associates to voice their opinions on issues that are important to them.”

Voice of workers

Encapsulated in the union’s campaign slogan “One job should be enough,” Lang told the Banner this means being able to live comfortably in Boston with one stable, sufficient income, and the ability to retire with dignity, an opportunity 71-year-old housekeeper Mei Leung says she has not had.

“The job isn’t easy,” said Leung, who cleans up to 15 rooms a day at the Sheraton hotel on Dalton Street in order to pay her 84-year-old husband’s medical bills. She wants a wage increase to match her cost of living so that she may finally retire. While she strains herself carrying heavy linens, Leung said “Marriott don’t care about us, they just make money for their pockets.”

Workers are also concerned about the effects of new technology and environmental programs like the Green Choice initiative, which incentivizes hotel guests to skip housekeeping for up to three days during their stay.

Sorinelda Pabon, a room attendant at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, said Green Choice has led to a drastic reduction in her hours. She is never far from her cellphone, day or night, as her schedule has become increasingly unpredictable due to the on-call demands Green Choice places on workers, she said. This shift in her routine has caused disruption that has impacted her health and family life, she added. “They are disrespecting us … and we are the people who make their money,” said Pabon.

Calling Green Choice “a labor-saving program,” Lang stressed that workers are not against technological or environmental advancement, but they would like their voices heard during discussions about how such programs are integrated into the business. “We want a seat at the table and a process that allows people to adjust,” said Lang. “This means providing training … and it may mean job elimination … but we want to be an equal partner in this discussion.”

The vote was announced on Labor Day, when hotel workers, joined by a coalition of labor groups, including SEIU 32BJ, building trades workers and members of the Boston Teachers Union, marched through Back Bay. Last week’s vote in Boston follows one by Unite Here locals in Hawaii, where members representing 3,500 employees voted 95 percent in favor of a strike. Other votes took place Sept. 13 in San Francisco, where almost 99 percent of unionized hotel workers voted to strike, and in San Jose, where 90 percent of Unite Here local members added their voices to the call for action.

If a strike were to be called, Lang is confident it would not continue for long. In 2016, 700 Local 26 school dining workers went on strike at Harvard University. With similar demands, the university’s administration yielded after 22 days.

Marriott’s spokesperson told the Banner, “Should the union and our employees choose to strike, our hotels will continue to operate and work to minimize any disruption.”

Pabon believes striking is the only way to force company management to listen to their demands. While she is unsure how she will survive with no income while protesting, she said, “I’m just trying to survive … I am not afraid because I’m pretty confident we are going to be the winners.”