‘We won!’ Marriott hotel workers vote to end strike, return to work

By Betsey Stone
December 17, 2018
Dec. 1 rally by striking San Francisco Marriott hotel workers. Union members there and in Hawaii made gains on higher wages, job security, better work conditions, health care.
Militant/Eric SimpsonDec. 1 rally by striking San Francisco Marriott hotel workers. Union members there and in Hawaii made gains on higher wages, job security, better work conditions, health care.

SAN FRANCISCO — Marriott hotel workers here ended their strike Dec. 3, voting by 99.6 percent to accept a new four-year contract. The workers, members of UNITE HERE, kept picket lines strong for two months at seven of the city’s hotels. They returned to work Dec. 5. Strikers in Hawaii had voted up a new contract and settled with Marriott Nov. 27.

The atmosphere at the Parc 55 Hotel where workers came to vote was one of celebration. Many told the Militant they were happy they won one of their key demands — keeping health coverage at no cost for single workers and $10 a month for family coverage.

Up until the final days of the strike Marriott insisted there would be no pay raise if the medical coverage was retained. Although details of the contract have not been released publicly, workers report they did get pay raises and the bosses made concessions on other union demands as well.

The new contract includes modifications to the “Make A Green Choice” program, where guests get a break if they agree not to have their room cleaned. For housekeepers, this program has led to cuts in hours and harder work — cleaning rooms that haven’t been touched for days. The new contract contains an adjustment in workers’ schedules to allow for more time to clean these rooms.

“I’m happy,” Courtyard Marriott bartender Fortunado Martinez told the Militant after voting. He thought the union came out stronger from the strike. Many of his co-workers are from China, he said, and before the strike he didn’t talk with them because they speak Chinese. After being on the picket lines, he said, “Now we are family. When we meet we give each other high-fives. We’ll be going back stronger.”

“This was not any easy victory,” said Peter Kwan, who works at the Weston St. Francis. They kept up chanting and drumming from 6 a.m. to 10 at night, he said, picketing 24 hours a day, facing smoke from the wildfires and then rain. “What affects me most,” he said, “was that we got through all this together. It showed the unity.”

Just two days before the vote, over 1,000 strikers participated in a rally and march called by the San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo labor councils in support of the strike. Workers marched to four of the struck hotels, chanting, “One day longer, one day stronger.”

Larrilou Carumba, a housekeeper and picket captain at the Marriott Marquis, spoke at the rally, emphasizing the importance of the strike’s signature slogan — “One job should be enough.” She said after her shift at Marriott she had to work a second job to support her kids.

Marie Nazaire, a union member and housekeeper at the Pickwick Hotel, got a leave of absence to work full time in support of the Marriott strike. “It’s the children who have suffered from the situation where so many have to work two jobs,” she said.

One of the backbones of the strike was the large number of Local 2 workers who had been through earlier union battles. “My first strike was in 1980 when all the hotels went on strike for weeks,” St. Regis striker Rafael Linares, a 40-year member of Local 2 who works in the restaurant there, told the Militant. “New managers come in and start treating you like you have no union. Pushing you. We then have to organize and push back.”

The national strike against Marriott began in October when over 7,000 hotel workers walked out in Oakland, San Jose, San Diego, Detroit, Boston, and Maui and Oahu, Hawaii. With the settlement at the seven San Francisco hotels, workers have voted up new contracts in all seven cities.

San Francisco was the last to settle. After the ratification vote, UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh told the media, “Now we turn to the remaining 5,500 Local 2 hotel workers who are still working with expired contracts. To the Hilton, the Hyatt, the Fairmont, we say, ‘This is the new standard for San Francisco hotel workers.’”

Workers win new contract in Hawaii

On Nov. 27, Marriott workers at five hotels in Hawaii voted to ratify a new four-year contract. UNITE HERE Local 5 said strikers got a $1.50 raise in the first year for nontipped workers and 75 cents for tipped workers, as well as gains in health care, job security, workload reductions and protections for new hires.

“People learned how to win on the lines,” Royal Hawaiian hostess Janal Kaina said. “How to stand up for themselves, how to stand up for respect and dignity.”

While Marriott bosses in Hawaii haven’t saddled housekeepers with the “Green” room program, strikers still won a reduction in the number of rooms each worker is expected to clean — from 14 to 13 a shift at most of the hotels.

It was the longest hotel strike on the islands since 1970, rallying support from other area workers and even from many inconvenienced vacationers.

“I think it’s fabulous for the staff they get what they deserve,” Michael Psarris, visiting from Australia, told HawaiiNewsNow. “A strike of 51 days shows how important it is to them.”

More strikes could be on the horizon. UNITE HERE officials told the press that contracts expired at the end of November covering some 8,000 union members at 25 hotels in Los Angeles and Orange County, most operated by Marriott.

Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company, with 177,000 workers at 6,700 properties in 130 countries. Bosses there raked in $1.37 billion net profit in 2017.