Marriott workers are in the fight of their lives

When Darin Gile started out as a bartender 10 years ago in San Jose, he lived in an $800 a month one-bedroom apartment, didn’t worry about health benefits, and paid scant attention to workers he might pass on a picket line.

Now, skyrocketing rents have forced him to downsize to a single room in a house for $1,400 monthly, still $600 cheaper than the typical rent for similar digs in this Silicon Valley bastion of tech wealth. In 2016 he suffered a pulmonary embolism and had to miss several months of work. Health insurance and other union benefits were the only things that saved him from homelessness and death.

For 30 days, the 41-year-old has walked the picket line at the San Jose Marriott Hotel, joining with 8,000 of his brothers and sisters who are striking across seven time zones against the largest — and richest — hotel chain in the country over low pay, poor benefits, workplace safety and automation. His union, Unite Here, represents some 20,000 Marriott workers, 40 percent of whom are on strike.

The union is calling this the largest multi-city workers strike in American history. Workers are walking the picket line and we want them to know that MPP stands in solidarity.

If you live in one of the eight cities below, grab your MPP swag, make a sign and walk the picket line in solidarity with the men and women in the hospitality industry who serve the meals, clean the rooms and greet the guests upon check-in.

Workers are striking at various properties in the state of Hawaii, and the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, Detroit, Boston, San Diego and Oakland, CA.

Take photos on the picket line and send them to us by replying to this email. Post them to social media with the hashtags #OneJobShouldBeEnough and #PeoplesParty. We’ll share them on Facebook and Twitter throughout the strikes’ duration. Share updates on social media and contribute to the strike fund if you are able.

As an award-winning mixologist who makes good tips in addition to his base pay of $10 an hour, Darin considers himself better off than most of his co-workers, several of whom sleep in their cars or on the street and work two to three jobs to survive. But he chafes at a company that made record profits over the past five years yet refuses to pay San Jose’s legally mandated minimum wage of $15 an hour that goes into effect Jan. 1.

The pay nationwide in the hotel industry ranges from $10-$12 an hour. Many jobs are seasonal so Marriott doesn’t have to pay year-round benefits, and full-time benefits are bare bones. Workplace injuries are high, especially among housekeepers who are expected to turn over a room in 30 minutes regardless of the room’s level of cleanliness. Many of them, mostly women, work in solitude and want panic buttons to avoid the assaults and rapes  that often go unreported or are ignored by management.

But like many of his colleagues, Darin worries about the elimination of his job due to automation. Unite Here is not against automation outright, but wants a voice in which positions will be affected and how workers can be retained. They think Marriott members and guests should also have a say in whether they want a robot taking their order in a restaurant or bar. Or whether they will be willing to sit at a kiosk to straighten out a mixed up hotel reservation or get clean towels or flag security about noisy neighbors. Or whether they want strangers roaming the halls to deliver food from the several apps that guests are already utilizing in tech friendly cities like Boston, San Francisco and San Jose.

For all of these reasons, the Marriott strike is considered a bellwether for the hospitality industry and for the 270,000 workers in other low-wage sectors that Unite Here represents in Canada and the U.S., including gaming, food service, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation and airport industries. Unite Here is threatening to target these sectors next year as well as smaller hotel chains whose workers they represent.

Like the teachers before them who have defied their own unions to strike, hospitality workers are part of a growing labor movement that is rebelling against levels of inequality not seen since the Middle Ages. Unite Here said they are prepared to stay out until their demands are met and are considering spreading the actions to more cities.

The union said that the strike is having its desired effect as meetings and events are being canceled and angry guests are going on travel sites such as TripAdvisor with stories of shabby service at the upscale properties which include the Sheraton and Westin chains, bought by Marriott in 2016. Rooms in major markets range from $250/night to $1,500/night.

As stated in our platform, the American middle class was strongest when a third of our workforce was unionized in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Wages have stagnated and inequality has risen in proportion to the decline of unionization in America which now stands at 11 percent. The Republican and Democratic parties are complicit in keeping wages down, refusing to enact Medicare for all and caring more about their common corporate donors than the working class.

A thriving labor movement is vital to economic justice. That’s why MPP and our partner The Organizer continue to gain hundreds of supporters for our Labor-Community Campaign for an Independent Party. If you haven’t endorsed the campaign already, please do so here. That is where you, your union, or your progressive organization can endorse or request more information. A heartfelt thank you to those who have already signed on. We’re in the process of contacting everyone who has offered organizational endorsements and requested support drafting resolutions at their local.

As more and more people are pushed into poverty, workers like Darin feel they have no choice but to keep on striking. He estimates his lost wages and tips for last week alone amounted to $1,000 as his workplace, the San Jose Marriott Arcadia bar, sat empty during a major gaming event at the adjacent convention center.

Unheralded as a profession and now a month without a regular paycheck, these striking hospitality workers are bent but not broken. As Darin puts it, “We are used to standing.”

In solidarity,

Carol Ehrle
Political Director
Movement for a People’s Party

PS: Many of us work around the clock to build the coalition for a people’s party. Please donate what you can to keep our movement growing strong. Thank you.