Opinion

Opinion | Carlos Aramayo

Here’s why Marriott’s workers are on strike

In this Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 photo striking hotel workers carry picket signs outside The Westin Copley Place hotel, in Boston. New technology threatening to make some hotel jobs obsolete is among the concerns prompting thousands of Marriott workers to walk off their jobs across the U.S. in recent weeks. The Westin Copley Place is a Marriott-owned hotel. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/AP Photo
Striking hotel workers carry picket signs outside the Marriott-owned Westin Copley Place hotel on Oct. 9.

Boston is booming. Since the turn of the 20th century, the tech, medical, educational, and financial industries have grown exponentially in the city, creating enormous wealth. The city is sparkling, money is flowing, and business is good.

But who is business being good to? Certainly, the new economy’s innovators and disrupters are profiting. But what about the black and brown populations, many of them new immigrants, who spend their days working at the hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and shops that serve Boston’s new ruling class? What about the city’s traditional white working class, who have historically relied on good, unionized jobs to earn a decent living? Has the majority of Boston’s population profited equally from the city’s booming economy?

It has not, and this is why Marriott workers in Boston and seven other cities are on strike. Marriott workers are on strike because they believe one job should be enough.

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Boston is becoming unaffordable for working people. The new money flowing into the city has not been shared fairly. Real estate companies, like those that belong to the Real Estate Investment Trust, who own many of the city’s hotels, and large corporations, like Marriott, are profiting from the city’s new economy and lining their investors’ pockets. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Boston is skyrocketing. Rents are increasing and real estate prices are ballooning. Health care costs are also rising quickly. Working people now must work two or even three jobs to make ends meet.

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Marriott is the largest and wealthiest hotel company in the world. The company earned $22.9 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and has a net worth of $46.8 billion dollars, almost twice that of it’s nearest competitor, Hilton. As a giant in the hospitality industry, Marriott has the resources to lead the way in creating good, life-sustaining jobs. Instead, the company has refused to meet the modest demands of its employees, and now these workers are on strike.

The workers who clean, cook, and serve in Boston’s Marriott hotels want to be able to survive and live in this city where costs are rising. They want to see their incomes rise, they want have access to year-round health insurance, and they want to retire with dignity rather than in to poverty. As Brooke Meanson, a bartender at the Westin Boston Waterfront put it, “I am striking because I have to work three jobs to try and cover all my family’s expenses. Just like any parent, I want time with my children to see them grow up. We hear all the time how well Marriott is doing. We want Marriott to recognize our contribution to their success.”

Housekeepers at these hotels also want Marriott to end or change its greenwashing program called Make a Green Choice. This program gives guests incentives to refuse housekeeping – a cynical move to remove housekeepers from the schedule and keep labor costs down. The program leaves many room attendants waiting by the phone at night to see if they have work in the morning.

Finally, Marriott workers want to have a say in how new technologies will change their jobs. With robotics, algorithms, and digital apps flooding the hospitality industry, Marriott workers want job security protections that allow them to be part of the innovation economy rather than victims of it. They want to be able to have a voice in how and where technology is implemented, be retrained for jobs in the digital age, and have severance protections if jobs are eliminated.

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Marriott workers are striking for all the workers in Boston who believe that one job should be enough. They are demanding that the largest, wealthiest hotel company in the world take responsibility for creating jobs that allow working people to live and survive in our city. In doing so, they are providing an example of how working people, united and with a clear vision, can solve some of the economic problems of our society.

Carlos Aramayo is the Financial Secretary Treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 26, the Union of Hospitality workers in the Boston area.