Marriott hotel employees on strike for better wages and benefits

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Marriott hotel employees on strike for better wages and benefits

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By Rhyia Bibby, news correspondent

More than 1,500 employees of Marriott International have been on strike in Boston since Oct. 3 to fight for higher pay and better benefits as part of a nationwide demonstration against the hotel group.

Employees from seven Boston Marriott hotel brands, including the Aloft Boston Seaport District, the Ritz-Carlton Boston and the Sheraton Boston have spent the last two weeks demonstrating on the streets around the hotels with a rallying cry: “One job should be enough.”

The banging of drums and sporadic whistle-blowing can be heard throughout the area, sending a clear message to their employers: They won’t stop picketing until they get the Marriott to sign a contract giving them better pay, healthcare and retirement benefits.

“This is one of the most expensive cities. Everything is increasing. It’s almost impossible to sustain a living. It’s getting harder and harder to catch up,” said John Maurice, a room service assistant at the Westin.

Last year, the Northeastern University dining employees, who are also represented by Local 26, were in a similar situation. They were able to avoid a strike through negotiations between Local 26 and Chartwells, Northeastern’s food vendor. Their new contract prohibits Chartwell from taking away employees’ existing benefits, while encouraging more full-time schedules and higher pay.  

“We have bills to pay,” said Gerald Louis, who has worked at the Westin for 22 years. “I have a family to support.”

Louis said that he and many of the other employees on strike have only had trouble paying their bills since Marriott International bought Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the original owner of The Westin Copley Place, back in 2016.

Dang Duong, who has been working at the Westin for 30 years, claims to have suffered emotional distress resulting from negligence on the part of the new hotel management. Duong alleges several cases of coworkers calling him names without any intervention from the management, despite several attempts on his part to get them to take action.

“They don’t do their job. They’re supposed to work, but they don’t,” Duong said.  

In an email sent to The News on Oct. 13, Marriott said its “current economic proposal matches the economic terms in the parties’ last contract, which included the largest increases in the parties’ bargaining history.” The email continues, “we have not proposed any changes to our associates’ health, welfare or retirement benefits. During the strike our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests.”

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Ed Flynn proposed a resolution during the city council meeting Wednesday seeking to get their fellow councilors on record supporting those on strike. They urged their counterparts to rescind their support of each of the seven hotels until the dispute is resolved. The Boston City Council approved the resolution, officially showing their support for the workers.  

UNITE HERE Local 26 extended an invitation to the Boston community to join the picketers out in front of the Westin on Saturday, in response to a conference for the Chinese American Alliance being held within the building. Elizabeth Warren was rumored to be attending, but the senator was absent from the event. Both Warren and City Councilor Ayanna Pressley have expressed their support for the employees on strike although they have not actively joined the picket line.

Like every day for the past week, the protesters showed up with their signs and drums, but this time to ask the conference attendees to not cross the picket line. They ignored the requests from the picketers, and the conference proceeded as scheduled.

On Wednesday, someone from inside the Westin Copley hotel threw bananas down on the protesters, said Henrique Fernandes, a strike organizer.

The picketers were not discouraged, because, to them, it’s becoming business as usual, according to Beatrice Millimon, a housekeeper for the Westin. This Wednesday will mark the end of their second week on strike, and they plan to continue until the contract giving them proper benefits and pay is signed.

Fernandes said their message is “one job is enough” because they feel the company asks them to fulfill several roles, regardless of job title.

“We’re not a dog, waiting for scraps to come down,” he said.

Morgan Lloyd contributed to this report.