More than 1,000 protest outside of SF Marriott hotels as strike stretches into second week

More than 1,000 hotel workers and their supporters mobilized in downtown San Francisco early Saturday morning to demand increased job security and higher wages in ongoing contract negotiations with the Marriott Hotel corporation, the world’s largest hotel chain.

Since Oct. 4, over 2,500 employees at San Francisco’s seven Marriott locations joined a national strike that now includes eight cities. Combined with San Francisco, total of 7,700 workers have walked out of their jobs in Boston,Oahu, Maui, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and Detroit.

UNITE HERE Local 2, the union representing the hotel workers, organized Saturday’s massive rally to pressure the hotel giant to settle in the negotiations that according to the union’s leadership have stalled.

The union is demanding increased protections for the hotel workers as emerging technologies have replaced jobs and decreased workers’ hours, as well as work place safety and higher wages. Marriott employees increasingly report having to work two or three jobs to stay afloat.

The union has been in talks with Marriott since June, and employees have been working without contracts since then. 

“Some of the leaders met with Marriott last week — we didn’t see any movement on the key issues,” said union spokesperson  Rachel Gumpert. “This is the largest action in all eight strike cities to date — combined with the negative guest experiences happening while our workers are out, we are hopeful that Marriott will be willing to move and get these workers back to work.”

Gumpert said that apart from economics job security is a key issue in the ongoing negotiations. She gave as an example Marriott’s “Make a Green Choice” program, which the company describes as an effort to address environmental issues by incentivizing hotel guests to opt out of housekeeping services.

The program is “essentially a job elimination program,” said Gumpert, which has resulted in cut hours for housekeepers. A Marriott spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Escorted by police, the striking workers marched from 4th Street along Market Street — in the heart of San Francisco’s tourist area — holding up signs that read “one job should be enough.” They rallied at four of San Francisco’s seven Marriott hotels in the downtown area — the Marriott Marquis, The W, Saint Regis and the Palace Hotel — where entrances were fenced off and guests were escorted in and out.

Elizabeth Jimenez marched alongside one of her six children. A cook at Marriott’s Palace Hotel for 12 years, Jimenez has been on strike for two weeks.

“It’s been horrible — no money, and San Francisco is expensive,” said Jimenez. “I need to pay rent, bills. It’s hard.”

 Jimenez said that she decided to sacrifice her paycheck to achieve fairer working condition for herself and increased benefits for her family. 

“I’m fighting for my rights, for my daughter, for good benefits and pay. Our hours are not enough if you are living in San Francisco, even if you are living outside of San Francisco, it’s not enough,” she said. 

Private Dining Server, Camucha King, employee of St. Regis Hotel, raise her fist at the rally on Saturday, October 20, 2018. (DavÌd RodrÌguez/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The hotel workers were joined in their cause by fellow industry workers, San Francisco labor and tenant unions and city leaders.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called the ongoing strike “one of the most important worker struggles going on in San Francisco right now.” 

“There are big international hotel corporations that have hundreds of thousands of workers who are part of the struggle around the world and we need to stand with them,” said Mandelman, who was among 75 arrested during a Labor Day protest over Marriott’s low wages. “It’s a very clear case of global capital on the one side and workers rights on the other, and I think it’s pretty clear where San Franciscans are in that struggle.”

San Francisco school board Commissioner Matt Haney, who is running for District 6 Supervisor, also marched with hotel workers and wondered how anyone “could disagree with the message that one job is enough in a city as wealthy” as San Francisco. 

“It seem that there is a unity for the hotel workers but also around this message  that in our city, that one job should be enough,” he said.

Haney also sent a clear message to the Marriott.

“Do right by your workers —their demands are fair,” he said. “The Marriott got a massive tax break from the Trump administration, they are a huge corporation, and your workers are what make your hotel what they are.”

Still in uniform, Ruben Perez, a cook at the Hilton Hotel, joined the march to show solidarity with the protesters’ demands. 

“At Hilton, our chef let us come out and support our union,” said Perez, who is not on strike. “I’m here for better benefits in the new contracts.”

Despite the large turnout, the march remained peaceful. Last Friday, police arrested 41 striking Marriott hotel workers after they blocked traffic on Fourth Street during a march through the South of Market neighborhood.

This is a breaking story, check back for updates.

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