SAN FRANCISCO — “All day, all night! Local 2 is on strike!” and “Sign a contract like you should!” chants filled the smoky air here Nov. 18 as UNITE HERE members continued their seven-week strike against seven downtown Marriott hotels. Their central slogan — “One job should be enough!” — captures their demand for pay high enough to live on.
A plume of smoke from the massive fire that destroyed most of Paradise in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains has covered the San Francisco Bay Area. “Unhealthy” air warnings have resulted in school closings and cancellation of outdoor sports events. But the 2,500 Marriott strikers, some wearing protective masks, are keeping up their militant and disciplined picketing 24/7 and winning support from passersby.
At the St. Regis Hotel on Third Street a large water bottle is filling up with contributions. Bus, truck and automobile drivers honk in support. Several strikers keep up a loud and lively beat on big pails and other “drums” as strikers with bullhorns lead chant after chant.
Lila Neupane, 39, a sous-chef with eight years at the St. Regis, told the Militant that “the union at the struck Marriott hotels in Boston have settled!” Neupane said he was encouraged by what strikers here have heard about the new contract that workers voted up there.
Over 8,000 hotel workers went on strike against Marriott in Oakland, San Jose, San Diego, Detroit, Boston and Hawaii last month. While the Boston workers voted to settle Nov. 17, over 5,000 are still on strike at hotels here and in Hawaii.
“We have pushed them back,” Neupane said. The bosses say they’ve backed off demands for some workers “to work shifts as short as three hours, which would mean workers couldn’t work enough hours to qualify for benefits.” Another reason union members opposed such a short shift, Neupane said, is “the long distances many workers have to travel from cities where they have found housing they can afford.”
UNITE HERE Local 2, the strikers local here, said Marriott bosses have also agreed to drop plans to outsource food and beverage production and to end outside delivery services. But keeping health care and winning higher pay are still on the table.
After negotiations with Marriott and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii, UNITE HERE Local 5 said the bosses’ offer didn’t meet workers’ needs there either. “A true settlement offer is one that looks at the true cost of living and working in Hawaii,” the union said, “and brings us toward the goal of all workers: ‘One Job Should Be Enough.’”
The company refused to set further negotiations until Nov. 26, meaning workers face the Thanksgiving holiday on the picket line.
Marriott-run hotels in Hawaii have cancelled Thanksgiving dinner for guests. But union cooks and servers are preparing dinner for strikers and their families in three shifts Nov. 22. You can eat and then “Enjoy Thanksgiving with your home family & your union family on the picket lines!” the union strike bulletin said.
San Francisco strikers stand firm
“Today is Day 46,” read one placard in the strikers’ lean-to outside the San Francisco Marriott Marquis on Fourth Street, where hot soup and coffee awaited picketers taking breaks Nov. 18 during their six-hour stints on the line.
Priscilla Paras-Huerta is ladling out homemade soup, in between checking in workers for picket duty and answering questions from people passing by. A UNITE HERE member who works at the airport, Paras-Huerta got a union leave to help with the strike. Strikers, she said, can apply for financial aid beyond their $400 weekly strike pay from the union if they need to.
“We will stay out, however long, to keep a decent life,” Steve Krespel, 49, a bartender with seven years at the Marriott Union Square Hotel told the Militant. “One of my neighbors asked me if the union hired people to picket all these hotels.” He explained how the UNITE HERE members from each hotel are the backbone of the picketing. “For me,” he said, “it’s an honor to be out here.”