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Tuesday, 09 October 2018 06:49

Long Hours, Unhealthy Conditions and Sexual Harassment: Marriott Workers Strike

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Hotel 1009wrp(Photo: Mel Green / Flickr)

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On Thursday, October 5, thousands of hotel workers in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Boston and other cities, went on strike against Marriott hotels. In San Francisco, Unite Here Local 2 President Anand Singh said: "The working conditions for housekeepers with this company are breaking our members' bodies. On all of the issues most important to us, when we bring them to the table we're met with resistance or silence."

Marriott spokesperson Hunter Hardinge told Curbed SF that the hotel is "disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike" and added that the hotels remained open and that it would "welcome" any workers who chose to cross the picket line.

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"Workers at all seven of Marriott's hotels in Boston—an estimated 1,500 employees—have walked away from their positions as part of what Unite Here Local 2 union organizers are calling the first ever hotel strike in the city," Hotel Management's Elliott Mest recently reported. "The hotels affected by the strike include the Ritz Carlton, Boston; the Westin Boston Waterfront; and the Sheraton Boston."

In Boston, where the New York Yankees were in town for playoff games against the Boston Red Sox, several Yankee players -- including several players, including outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher Dellin Betances -- were greeted by "Yankees Suck" chants "after the team's players walked through the picket line of striking hotel workers to get into the Ritz-Carlton they're staying at in downtown Boston," Boston.com's Nik DeCosta-Klipa reported. "Bring Lang, the president of Unite Here Local 26, which represents the striking Boston hotel workers, called the Yankees, members of their own MLB players' union, 'scabs.'"

"They didn't go in some back door — they went right through the front door, through the picket line, and blew by the people who are fighting for their lives," Lang told the Boston Globe. "They acted just like an elite business person as they walked through the picket line."

United Here 26 represents workers at more than 30 hotels in the Boston area, but they are focusing the strike on Marriott, the largest hotel company in both the city and the world. Marriott International, which includes brands like Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, W Hotels, Westin and the recently acquired Starwood Hotels, purchased Starwood last year, thus becoming the largest hotel company in the world. USA Today pointed out that "It now has more than 1.2 million rooms [in 6,500 properties] in 127 countries and territories." According to Money, Marriott International "drew in more than $22 billion in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the company's website."

"We are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike at this time. Marriott's current economic proposal matches the economic terms in the parties' last contract, which included the largest increases in the parties' bargaining history," a spokesperson from Marriott said in a statement. "During the strike our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests. While we respect our associates' rights to participate in this work stoppage, we also will welcome any associate who chooses to continue to work."

Dealing with rampant sexual harassment of hotel workers

Several months ago, in a piece titled "Hotel Workers Battle Sexual Harassment and Abuse," I pointed out that "Hospitality workers face higher levels of sexual harassment then most workers in other industries. Guests grope, proposition, verbally harass, and frequently expose themselves to housekeepers."

UNITE HERE, the organization that is made up of workers fighting for better working conditions in the hospitality industry and beyond, "estimates that the majority of their members who are housekeepers have faced sexual harassment on the job," NPR's Samantha Raphelson has reported.

In September, CNBC's Seema Mody reported that Unite Here "has played a notable role in pushing hotels to adopt the panic button to better protect its workers.

"The panic buttons, or safety buttons, are useful in that they are a real-time lifeline for women who work alone. It can be used in the case of a sexual assault or harassment, and in other dangerous situations, like if a worker finds a guest who has highly dangerous or illegal materials in their hotel room," said Rachel Gumpert, national press secretary for Unite Here.

According to Mody, "U.S. hotels are aiming to implement the panic button at all properties by 2020. Given the different size and layouts of each hotel, the American Hotel and Lodging Association has organized a special task force to help hotels figure out the best technology and device to deploy.

"Some devices will emit a loud noise, while others will have GPS capabilities."

Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, told CNBC that "One of the things we've been wrestling with the last couple of years is how do you find a technology solution to be able to call somebody when it's urgent, whether you're in a 50 story stacked high-rise hotel or a spread-out resort, so that the technology is simple, [and] can be accurate."