New York, NY – After four recent UniteHere contract wins in Detroit, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego — the fight thousands of U.S. workers have taken to the largest hotel chain on the planet isn’t only pressing forward — it’s serving to further expose an inherently broken system that doesn’t work for America’s working class.
Courtney Leonard, 28, works in her hometown of Boston, Massachusetts — but she lives more than 50 miles away in New Bedford, Massachusetts where she is forced to spend five hours each day commuting back and forth to work because her job at the Westin Boston Waterfront doesn’t pay her nearly enough to live in the big city.
“The city has exploded where businesses have taken off — essentially, the hotels are full all the time and the room rates are through the roof,” Leonard tells LaborPress. “The hotels and the hotel owners are doing really well — but all the associates are being left behind.”
Across the country in San Francisco, California, Lisa Correa says the Marriott International hotel chain used to be a wise business operation that understood the value of its workforce — but no longer.
“When I came to the hotel chain [back in 1989], I really, really liked the culture the Marriott had in place,” Correa tells LaborPress. “They often spoke about how the employees are really what mattered. The culture was you take care of your employees and your employees will, in turn, take care of your guests. Over the last couple of years, the company has really changed its direction. It’s no longer about employees — it’s all about profits and margins.”
Around 2009, Marriott International started giving guests the option of foregoing daily housecleaning services as part of its so-called “Green Choice” program. The scheme has enabled the corporation to save big bucks on labor, while also allowing it to lay dubious claim to being environmentally conscious about limiting the use of harsh cleaning agents.
I feel like I’m a bar code — I feel that I am the dispensable inventory that Marriott has. There’s no human behind my social security number — it’s gone. — Unite Here striker Lisa Correa
The impact on Boston Sheraton housekeeper Ye Qing Wei, 50, however, has been profound, forcing the 13-year hotel employee to live in a constant state of anxiety and fear — never quite sure when she’ll be called into work, or if she’ll have enough time to get the job done properly once she gets there.
“We don’t have that long to clean,” Wei tells LaborPress. “When [guests] check out days later, the room is dirtier — but they don’t give me more time to clean. I also lose hours and have no regular day off. Most of the time, I keep the phone under my pillow to let the company call me to get my hours. If I miss the call, I don’t have that [work] day.”
According to Leonard, “It definitely feels like [the Marriott bosses] don’t put any value on the work that we do and how hard it is — they just keep asking us to do more and more. But we’re getting less out of it.”
“There’s no way I could live anywhere close to the city because the rents are ridiculous,” the young newlywed says. “I liked to live in the city where I was raised in and work — but I’d probably have to work three jobs to make that happen.”
Leonard works as a server in the lobby restaurant — a job she’s held for nearly eight years. Despite that, her income has never been consistent because, like so many others in the restaurant industry, she is reliant on tips and the good graces of the clientele.
“Some weeks are good, some weeks are bad,” Leonard says. “You’re kind of at their mercy. We’re always taught that the guests are always right and the guests come first. When it comes to being mistreated, [the Marriott bosses] don’t care what happens. We put up with a lot of stuff that we shouldn’t have to put up with, just so we don’t piss off the guests.”
Marriott International’s net income totaled some $398 million in the first quarter of 2018 alone — up 7-percent over the previous year’s first quarter net income of $371 million.
This past spring, Marriott International President and Chief Executive Officer Arne Sorenson gleefully reported that the company had already returned, year-to-date, $1.2 billion to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases.
“And we believe we could return at least $3 billion in 2018,” Sorenson said in a statement.
During the same time period, Marriott International also added 100 new properties — consisting of 14,905 additional rooms — to its worldwide lodging portfolio. They include the Marriott Hotel Mena House in Eygpt, the Moxy Tbilisi,in Georgia and the Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort & Spa in Indonesia.
“I feel like I’m a bar code — I feel that I am the dispensable inventory that Marriott has,” Correa says. “There’s no human behind my social security number — it’s gone.”
All Marriott employees are looking for, according to Leonard, are fair wages, uninterrupted healthcare and to be able to retire with dignity at a proper age, “instead of working until our 70s.”
Says Leonard, “We work for the richest and largest hotel company in the world — and we’re struggling to get by, as year after year, they just make more money.”
Ye Qing Wei’s mother happens to be one of those Marriott workers still toiling into her 70s — at the very same hotel as her daughter, in fact.
“My mom is 70-years-old, but she’s still working in the hotel — she can’t retire. [Healthcare] is so expensive,” Wei says.
A total of some 7,700 Marriott hotel workers went on strike last month, determined to change an economic paradigm that doesn’t work for them. A month later, they are making strides.
“We understand this [strike] is more for than just us — this is for the working class,” Correa says. “This is a movement. We’re part of history.”
According to Correa, being on strike has turned mere work colleagues into something much greater.
“We are a family now,” she says. “I know more workers now, than I could have ever thought. We came out together…we’re going back in together —and it’s definitely going to be a different environment.”