Unionists rally on May Day to boost workers’ struggles

May 20, 2024

Hotel workers and other unionists across the country took the May Day workers’ holiday to hold marches and rallies marking strikes and other fights with the bosses. Below are a few examples.

Over 1,000 D.C. hotel workers march on May 1


WASHINGTON — Chants of “What do we want? A contract!” echoed through the streets as hotel workers marched here May 1. UNITE HERE Local 25 represents over 7,000 hospitality workers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

The UNITE HERE union set May 1 as a day of action in the U.S. and Canada. Union contracts covering 40,000 workers at 230 hotels are up for renegotiation in over 22 cities this year. Union rallies took place in 18 cities, from Los Angeles to Toronto, from Miami to Waikiki, Hawaii.

Wearing black T-shirts saying “Respect our work” and carrying placards with the names of their hotels — Hyatt, Waldorf, Hilton, DoubleTree and more, signed by workers from each one — the well-marshaled and disciplined protest stopped outside the hotels along their route.

“It’s been a record year for the hotels and we deserve a big raise here,” Paul Schwalb, secretary-treasurer of Local 25, told a pre-march rally at McPherson Square. “Inflation is really hurting families, and an increase in wages and pensions is needed to keep up.”

Workers are also demanding better conditions on the job. Many hotels have kept COVID-era job cuts in place, overloading work on fewer workers. The union says hotel staffing per occupied room is down 13% since 2019, and 32% since 1995.

Several workers from the Bazaar restaurant inside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel marched. They’re in negotiations for a first contract since 96 workers submitted a petition for union recognition with UNITE HERE Local 25 in January. Three days later, employer chef  José Andrés recognized the union. Tipped workers at the restaurant make $9 per hour plus tips, while unionized hotel bussers make $20 plus tips.

Forty UNITE HERE Local 7 members picketed in front of the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor. “I am ready to get a better contract,” cook La’Tan Smith said in a union press release. “I shouldn’t have to work 12-hour days just to make my check look like something. I shouldn’t have to miss all of my child’s life and help with homework just so that I can make a living.”

Janitors join hotel workers in downtown San Francisco march


SAN FRANCISCO — Office building janitors marched past the high-rise buildings they clean and joined with hotel workers for a rally of over 1,000 unionists here May 1. Ten thousand Bay Area hotel workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2, and 5,000 Service Employees International Union Local 87 office and residential tower cleaners face contract battles this summer.

They were joined by several dozen members of other unions, including Operating Engineers Local 39, which had fought long strikes against Macy’s department store and Kaiser hospitals.

The janitors kicked off the march in front of the Salesforce Tower. They carried signs reading, “My union contract is essential,” “Janitors’ lives depend on: paid sick days,” “Sexual harassment protections,” “Safety measures,” and “The right to return to work for laid-off janitors.”

Several told the Militant that post-COVID changes, including office workers working from home, have left whole floors of many office buildings vacant. This has led to sharp cutbacks in staffing. In a city known for its exorbitant cost of living, janitors need higher wages, as well as better health care and lighter workloads.

In 2020, 98% of Local 2 hotel workers were laid off due to COVID shutdowns. The union fought and won recall rights through 2024. Many marching on May Day told the Militant they have decades in the union, which was reflected in the confidence they showed.

Louisville bus drivers rally to oppose cuts to service


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1447 and supporters rallied here May 1 to protest plans by the Transit Authority of River City to slash bus service by as much as 40% and lay off 60 to 80 drivers. A budget passed by the TARC Board April 15 includes a so-called Saturday-plus schedule on many bus routes.

“This schedule is ‘plus’ in name only,” said Lillian Brents, president of the union. Some routes that run every 10-15 minutes will now run every 60-90 minutes, disrupting commutes to work and school.

“We’re glad to be out here with you,” Todd Dunn, president of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council and United Auto Workers Local 862, told the rally, “They underestimate us every time. Our voices matter.”

Brents invited supporters to come out for more rallies outside of the Metro Council meetings that will take up funding for TARC in May and June.