Marriott has the money

October 22, 2018

Following strikes against 26 Chicago hotels owned by multiple chains, workers at Marriott-owned hotels are now walking picket lines in at least eight cities — including Boston, Detroit, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and two cities in Hawaii — as workers in the hospitality industry push back against low wages, poor working conditions and, for women workers in particular, sexual harassment on the job.

Alexander Wells spoke with Rick, an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 30, on the picket line at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp hotel, which is operated by Marriott, about what hotel workers are fighting for.

WHAT ARE the demands of the hotel workers who are on strike right now?

IT’S NOT just economics — wages, health care, pensions. We have other core issues as well.

Marriott has put forth an initiative under the guise of environmental responsibility called the “Make a Green Choice” program, and it’s designed specifically to cut shifts. What it means is that guests can make a reservation or check in, and opt in to “make a green choice,” forgoing any housekeeping services for the entire time they’re there. Really, though, Marriott is just using the program to cut shifts for housekeepers.

Striking hotel workers at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
Striking hotel workers at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter (UNITE HERE Local 30 | Facebook)

Then, when the housekeepers actually get called in to clean the room, once the guests are gone, it hasn’t been maintained the entire time. So the showers haven’t been cleaned, the bathrooms are a mess, and it actually takes more chemicals to clean it up than it would otherwise. So it’s not even environmentally responsible!

More importantly, though, it takes more physical labor, and the housekeepers don’t get any extra time. Not only is it an unsafe workload, because they have to do twice as much work in the same amount of time, but they also have to look for other jobs, because they’re not getting as many shifts as they need to live.

Automation creeping into the industry is also a key concern. Knowing Marriott, they’re looking for automation designed to take people’s jobs, rather than to make their jobs safer and more efficient. We need a seat at the table before we can let that happen.

We notice that it’s also happening in North San Diego County, up in Fairfield, where they actually have a robot acting as the bellman and the doorman. So sooner or later, the front desk workers are going to lose their jobs.

DO YOU have a set end date for the walkout, or do you plan to strike indefinitely?

THIS IS part of a national campaign targeting Marriott, so we’re talking with other cities that are striking. We’re not striking for ourselves as an independent unit. We need to make sure our workers get their demands met across the country.

Marriott is an industry leader. It’s the biggest, richest hotel company in the world, and as such, they’re in the unique position of being able to transform the hospitality industry from one that usually provides low-wage jobs to one that provides good middle-class jobs — jobs that allow employees to raise their families, to live in the cities where they work and to retire with dignity. That’s the endgame.

So we’re not just asking for $15 an hour across the board. We’re looking for actual wage increases that meet the cost of living where workers live, so that they don’t need to take a second job to scrape by.

WHAT CAN other union members, activists and students do to help?

IF YOU’RE downtown near a hotel that’s on strike, and you’ve got 15 minutes to kill, stop on by and pick up a picket sign! We love to see the solidarity.

For a lot of these workers, this is their first time striking. When they see people from other organizations and other unions show up and support them, it’s incredibly encouraging to learn that total strangers care about them and support their cause. We’ve had City Council members coming down and marching with us on their lunch breaks.

So whether you can spend 20 minutes on a lunch break or an entire afternoon, we like to get to know the people who come out to support us. It really broadens our perspective on our community — to know that there are people out there who stand with them.

WHAT ELSE should people know about the strike?

I JUST want to stress how rich Marriott really is: It’s a $49 billion company. Last year, they opened a new hotel every 18 hours, so they have an intense amount of capital, but none of it is coming down to the workers. They keep opening new hotels, but they don’t create the proper jobs for people to live off of.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with that, and we’re going to keep striking nationally until Marriott management comes to their senses and sets a new standard for the hotel industry.

WHAT HAS been the impact of the #MeToo movement on hotel workers, given the sexual harassment workers often face?

THE #METOO movement was phenomenal in raising awareness about the threat of sexual violence facing women every day.

In the hospitality industry, especially for housekeepers, the nature of their work makes them vulnerable. They work in isolated spaces, often alone with a guest who may not have the best intentions, and a lot of really creepy things can happen, up to and including sexual assault.

We’ve demanded that, at the very least, Marriott give them panic buttons that they can press in the case of emergency to send security right away.

These are women, largely women of color, and the managers keep ignoring their voices. If you keep speaking about these issues, you get fired. We have a union, we’re stepping in, and we’re saying, “No, you have to listen to women and believe them and do something about it.”

So that’s part of the negotiation process as well, and it’s our first victory so far: Marriott has said they’ll concede to our demand once we finalize the contracts.

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