There are times when a vote is more than an expression of opinion about a political candidate. There are even times when it’s more important than deciding whether joining a union is a good idea. For hotel workers, last week was one of those times — a vote to go on strike or not.
Striking may cost a housekeeper her rent money for several weeks at least, and maybe longer. It may have a bellman walking sidewalks instead of the carpeted hotel lobby. Voting to strike is a choice with certain risk and sacrifice on one side. On the other, however, workers have to envision and weigh the future of their jobs. Would a bartender eventually lose her job to a new cocktail-mixing machine? Would the rising premium for a cook’s health care cut into his paychecks further and further every year?
Deciding to strike or not is a question with real and immediate consequences. It is a very democratic process. Everyone affected gets to choose. And everyone has to live by the result, regardless of how each individual votes. Once workers strike, those with families at risk will have no patience or tolerance for anyone who breaks ranks to go to work.
These photographs show what happened last week when the hotel workers in San Francisco and Oakland cast their votes. They reflect the great diversity of the hotel workforce — multiracial, young and old, men and women, immigrants and native born. And they show people’s determination. It’s no accident that more than nine out of 10 in every ballot chose to strike. In the photos you can see the anger they harbor against Marriott Corporation. You can see the relief when the votes were counted — relief that pretty much everyone agreed on what to do about it.
In San Francisco and Oakland the vote in favor was 98.6 percent. Hotel workers in these two cities are joining other Marriott workers in Hawaii, Boston, San Jose, Seattle, San Diego and Detroit, who all voted to strike by over 90 percent. Chicago hotel workers are already on strike at Marriott and other hotels.
More than 2,300 San Francisco hotel workers have been working without a contract since August 15 at the Marriott Union Square, the Palace Hotel, the W, Westin St. Francis Union Square, Marriott Marquis, Courtyard San Francisco Downtown and the luxurious St. Regis. They voted in a ballroom at the Parc 55, the scene of a Local 2 organizing drive that took four years to win. Oakland hotel workers voted at the Local 2850 office on Broadway, just across the street from the Downtown Marriott, where walking the picket line will be a first-time experience.
A Hawaii strike will hit some of the most famous tourist resorts on Oahu and Maui, where 3,500 people work at the Waikiki Beach Marriott, Sheraton Waikiki, the Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani and Sheraton Maui. A Boston strike will include 1,800 workers at the W, Westin Copley, Westin Boston Waterfront, Renaissance, Ritz Carlton, Sheraton Boston, Aloft and Element.
Marriott has become a behemoth in the hotel industry, with 1.2 million rooms, far bigger than its closest competitor. It has more employees than Facebook, American Airlines, Microsoft or Boeing. Gobbling up other chains has made it the biggest hotel employer in San Francisco and the world’s richest hotel corporation. Company profits have increased 279 percent since the recession. The 1 percent per year increase workers have received in the same period has long been eaten up by inflation. No wonder they’re angry.
In San Francisco, the union collected some comments by workers as they cast their ballots. Larrilou Carumba, a housekeeper, said, “I voted ‘yes’ because my job at Marriott Hotels isn’t enough for me to take care of my kids. Many days, after working full-time at the Marquis, I have to work the night shift at a laundromat.”
The union’s demand in negotiations, which will be its rallying cry in the strike, is “One job should be enough!”
Kirk Paganelli, a server and bartender, told the union, “I voted to strike because I live in fear of losing my job. Marriott Hotels laid me off after 18 years at my last hotel, so I know I’m never safe. Now I see Marriott installing bartending machines that threaten my job.” Nix Guirre, a butler, said simply, “We’re fed up. One job should be enough.”
Anand Singh, Local 2 president, warned, “There will be disruptions if a strike happens.” He says the industry is booming for investors, but not for workers. “Our members have been left behind, so we’re fighting for a decent standard of living for ourselves and our families.”
Eric Gill, secretary treasurer of Hawaii’s Local 5, told his members that Marriott has grown so big that this is the last chance to force it to take their needs into account: “Our proposal is to make one job enough to live in Hawaii. Marriott’s proposal is to get another job.”