The hotel workers’ strike wave reaches the Bay

October 17, 2018

Alessandro Tinonga reports from the Bay Area where hotel workers at the Marriott chain have joined their union brothers and sisters across the country on the picket line.

THE NATIONAL contract campaign of Marriott hotel workers organized by UNITE HERE has hit cities all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

Nationally, workers have been fighting to increase their pay, protect their health benefits and prevent their jobs being atomized, while resisting management’s increase of their workloads.

These grievances are well captured in the slogan “One job should be enough.” While this slogan resonates strongly in most American cities, it makes a particularly strong impact in the Bay Area, which is rapidly becoming the most expensive place to live in the country. A recent study showed that one would have to earn $50 an hour to afford the median rent.

Of course, the Marriott workers aren’t asking for that much in their contracts. Despite being one of the most profitable corporations in the world, Marriott has attempted to freeze all raise scales and force the workers to start paying hundreds of dollars out of pocket for family medical care.

Striking hotel workers on the picket line in Oakland
Striking hotel workers on the picket line in Oakland (Josh On | SW)

This would make a difficult situation for many Marriott workers intolerable. It’s clear why the strike authorization votes in every Bay Area local were passed by 96 to 98 percent of their respective memberships.

Marriott workers in the Bay Area are fighting to stay in their communities — and get a small piece of the massive profits their produced.


San Francisco

Some 2,500 San Francisco Marriott workers walked off the job on October 4, the same day as the “Cancel Kavanaugh” walkouts. Hundreds of anti-Kavanaugh protesters marched to one of the Marriott hotels a mile away to join the workers. The following week has been non-stop picketing at seven Marriott hotels across San Francisco, where chanting and drumming can be heard all across downtown.

Marriott’s profits have increased 279 percent in the past decade while workers’ salaries have increased by just 7 percent, with workers struggling to get by on fewer hours.

“They are proposing to cut some shifts down to three-hour shifts,” said Lisa Correa, who has worked at the Marriott Marquis for 29 years. “It’s ridiculous. That would only give workers 15 hours a week. That’s an unbelievable hardship, so that’s why we’re out here.”

What you can do

If you would like to show your support to striking hotel workers, you can contribute to the Hardship Fund. Hotel workers and supporters in Oakland and San Francisco are rallying on October 20. In San Jose, picketers are asking supporters to call the hotel at 408-453-4000 and tell management that they should return to negotiations and meet workers’ demands.

Correa also said that demands concerning sexual harassment and assault are nationwide concerns, and that hotel workers deserve more protection. Many members said that panic buttons should be mandatory in all hotels.

The pickets have been going on virtually non-stop with drums, bullhorns, chanting and people driving by, honking their horns to show support. Community support has been overwhelming, with many contributing food and snacks to support the workers’ demonstrations.

Several unions, community groups and socialist organizations, including the International Socialist Organization (ISO), have been out joining the pickets, with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) creating a fund for delivering meals to workers.

The pickets and campaigning by the union and its supporters appear to be having an impact. It’s currently peak season for conferences and conventions that utilize Bay Area hotels and meeting centers. Several groups have already canceled their events, such as Chicana Latina Foundation and Shanti Project, in solidarity with the workers.

The 24-hour pickets are often lively with a drummer on sheet metal, a conga or regular buckets, which has been effective in increasing guests’ complaints and checkouts. Another worker said that over a thousand rooms have been compensated since the hotel couldn’t provide a restaurant or hire enough people to clean all the rooms.

The workers are determined to win, with “Si se puede” and “No contract, no peace” chants heard all across San Francisco.

On October 12, nearly 2,000 workers and supporters rallied downtown, marching from the city’s main shopping district, through Yerba Buena Gardens, ending up in a picket the circled entirely around the Marriott.

Thirty people engaged in a direct action by sitting in the middle of 4th Street in front of the Marriott Marquis blocking the weekend rush traffic for an hour. The crowd was raising their fists and chanting “One job should be enough” and “No contract, no peace.”

Correa added: “This is more than a strike for me, it’s a movement for the working class.”


San Jose

In the South Bay, San Jose hotel workers are also on strike. This includes UNITE HERE Local 19 workers at the downtown Marriott, but also Stationary Engineers Local 39 workers at the airport DoubleTree.

Marriott workers joined the national call to strike on October 4, while DoubleTree workers started their strike on October 9. Although the two strikes involve different hotels, unions and workers, both have been working without a contract for an extended period of time and are demanding that their pay and benefits be brought up to industry standards by corporations that bring in big profits.

At the downtown Marriott, workers are demanding “One job should be enough,” like other Bay Area hotel workers. Workers are primarily concerned about wages, demanding a $5 raise over their current pay of $18 an hour.

They also want Marriott to contribute more to their health insurance programs in order to help alleviate some of the burden on workers. A worker named Ruben identified Marriott as the biggest and wealthiest hotel company in the area, and said that they were targeting Marriott because whatever Marriott does, the other hotel chains will follow suit.

This is the first strike for many Marriott workers. Lindsay, a five-year hotel restaurant server, said her primary reason for going on strike for the first time is a living wage. Many of her co-workers have to have two to three jobs to afford the Bay Area.

Another worker said he has had multiple jobs over the last 10 years in order for him and his family to afford to stay in the region. Both said they were willing to strike until their demands are met. The majority of staff is out in the picket line; however, there are a few scabs.

Workers are picketing 24 hours a day at both entrances. The pickets are made up of hotel workers, union staff, supportive neighboring unionized hotel staff and community members. Four drummers keep the beat while two picketers use megaphones to lead chants.

Security guards have reported to picketers that management is feeling the effects of the constant drumming and chanting. Esther, a housekeeping worker, said that she anticipates the housekeeping workload to back up very quickly and expects management to give up soon, because even when they’re fully staffed with experienced workers, they receive complaints.

While the strike has been going on for a little over one week, energy is still high. Local media have visited and covered the strike. Local politicians have also visited and expressed solidarity. San Jose organizations like Sacred Heart CS and Working Partnerships organized a grocery drive. Socialist organizations DSA and ISO have also dropped off supplies.

The union organized a rally on October 12, and a local progressive priest led a solidarity fellowship on October 13. Overall, the downtown San Jose Marriott strike is well-supported and has a lot of momentum.

The situation at the DoubleTree has its similarities and differences with the Marriott strike. Like Marriott workers, Stationary Engineers Local 39 has been working without a contract for a long time — 11 months. They also want a living wage that matches the industry standard, as their wages have been stagnant while the cost of living in San Jose has soared.

Unlike Marriott workers, this is not their first strike. They went on strike for similar demands in 2012, but were unsuccessful in winning their demands. They are trying again now because they want to stand with their hotel worker brothers and sisters in the demand for better pay and benefits.

The DoubleTree strike is smaller than the downtown Marriott, and it has not received the same media attention or community support. Despite this, those on strike are very energetic and loud.

No one is scabbing, and the workers here are doing their best to be loud and ask that visitors check out. This includes attempting to block hotel shuttles. Picketers are asking supporters to call the hotel and tell management that they should return to negotiations and meet worker demands. You can reach the hotel at 408-453-4000.


Oakland

Nearly 200 workers of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland have been on strike for the last 10 days. Similar to many other Marriott Hotels, the management at Oakland wanted to freeze raises, drastically increase health care costs and expand the workload of its employees while cutting the staff.

“They want me to work three jobs and only get paid for one,” said Silvia Stollger, who is a switchboard operator and has worked at the hotel for 26 years. “They want everyone to take on two or three staff jobs so they can keep up their profits.”

To fight back against the company, the pickets have been running from 5 a.m. to midnight every day.

The workers picket at both the front and back entrances, as well as at another door where supplies were unloaded into the hotel. One worker said that that a few days ago, truck drivers who were union members had refused to cross the picket line and unload supplies to the hotel. As a result, Marriott switched to nonunion suppliers.

To keep service running in the hotel, management has hired scab workers, however they are reportedly far from enough to keep the hotel running. One worker said that each scab had to clean as many as 30 to 40 rooms each day, and there were no front-desk receptionists.

Several customers had been seen checking out early and switching hotels because they felt the rooms were dirty and service was horrible, even though Marriott offered them free stay as an apology. The workers themselves were also trying to talk to customers, using these arguments to convince them to leave the hotel.

There’s no telling if or when management will offer the workers a fair contract, but the confidence on the picket line is high and most expect the get the treatment they deserve.

“In every room of the hotel, the company’s leaflet, called ‘The Spirit to Serve,’ is left for the guests to read,” said Stollger. “Part of it says that the workers are the ‘Heart of the House.’ We’re also the brains and hands.”

Jeffrey Boyette, Jonathan Engel, Kacie Harlan, Hana Lee, Elizabeth Maskasky and Yueran Zhang contributed to this article.

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