Workers demand livable wages at Marriott

Striking workers at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit declare victory after reaching a settlement with the Marriott-owned hotel on November 3.
Striking workers at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit declare victory after reaching a settlement with the Marriott-owned hotel on November 3. | Photo: Unite Here Local 24

By Tyler Vosgerchian

One job should be enough.

That is the tagline of the strike called by the hospitality union Unite Here against Marriott hotels nationwide, which concluded last week. This writer recently became a member of Unite Here Local 24, which was on strike last month at Marriott’s flagship Detroit hotel, the Westin Book Cadillac, as well as the Detroit Metropolitan Airport Westin. Local 24 joined the nationwide strike against  20 hotels in 7 States for higher wages and more job security.

The downtown hotel was built around 1923 and opened in 1924. It underwent extensive renovations and reopened in 2008 during the Great Recession. Developers were eager to get in on the ground floor and maximize their expected returns; as a result, they did not feel like they had to pay a living wage. “This hotel opened in 2008 and there was an economic recession back then, so workers accepted a contract with no wage increases” for two years, Local 24 president Nia Winston said. “Through the tough times, we continued to make sure the hotel stayed afloat,” accepting only “minimal” wage increases in the years since.

Meanwhile, the waves of gentrification have reached the fertile soil of downtown Detroit and though most of the working class people have been priced out, the luxurious amenities have created more working-class jobs in the area. Mere miles away, workers from the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center make an average of $2 more per hour. “You can literally get a job as a new hire over there and make more money than someone who’s been here for 10 years, which is insane to me,” Winston said.

Marriott is the largest hotel chain in the world. The company earned $22.9 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and has a net worth of $46.8 billion dollars. Marriott’s $13-billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts in 2016 made it even larger, with 6,500 properties worldwide. Being the largest and richest hotel company in the world, Marriott no longer has the excuse of an economic recession. It can set the standard for the global hotel industry.

The contract at the Westin Book Cadillac expired on June 30 and after months of stalled negotiations, the workers represented by Local 24 voted to strike. “Months of excruciatingly slow negotiations with the Marriott-operated Westin Book Cadillac have gotten us only insulting and disrespectful proposals. Now is the time to move forward towards economic fairness, real job security, and respect on the job,”  Winston wrote in a press release.

“They’ve been at the table, but they sure have not been serious,” Unite Here spokeswoman Rachel Gumpert said of Marriott. Four days into the strike at the Westin Book Cadillac, the workers at the airport location voted to go on strike as well.

Marriott tried to break the strike by bringing in management from other locations to replace the striking workers. “We are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike at this time. During the strike our hotel is open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests.” Despite this, online reviews of the hotel have complained about dirty beds and understaffing.

Strikers were on the picket line with signs, banners, and noisemakers 24 hours a day and seven days a week. On November 2, 33 days into the strike, the workers heard word that their efforts had paid off. An agreement had been reached between the hotel and the union, to be ratified by the membership the next day.

The union was expecting an overwhelming “yes!” to the new contract, and they got it. On November 3, Unite Here Local 24 announced via Facebook that the strike had ended. “‪Striking workers at the Westin Book Cadillac have ratified a historic agreement. Today, our strike came to an end. Thank you everyone who stood with us. This agreement will change workers’ lives and the hotel industry in Detroit.‬”

The new contract will include an initial wage increase of $0.80 to $1.90, depending on the position. Healthcare costs will go down from 20 percent of income to 5 percent over the length of the contract. Among other wins, tipped workers will see an increase in vacation pay as well.

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