As contract negotiations drag out, Marriott workers struggle to pay bills

Five days each week, Larrilou Carumba leads dozens of her unionized co-workers in a march to the rhythm of makeshift drums outside of the Marriott Marquis Hotel at Fourth and Mission streets.

The 45-year-old has worked as a housekeeper at the hotel for six years. Now, the UNITE HERE Local 2 picket captain is one of 2,500 workers at seven Marriott locations across San Francisco who are approaching their sixth week of participation in a massive strike that at its height touched eight U.S. cities.

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Day after day, the hotel workers are striking for expanded health care benefits and increased job security. Many have seen their hours cut as their jobs are outsourced or replaced by advancing technology.

Under the slogan “One job should be enough,” the workers are also calling on the hotel giant to raise their wages high enough to afford living on just one job — a goal that is currently not a reality for many of Marriott’s low-level employees.

Some progress has been made, as Marriot has settled with striking union workers in San Jose and Oakland. But Local 2 leaders say that progress on negotiations in San Franicsco has been slow.

“Even if I am the last person standing there, I will not go back to Marriott unless they settle,” Carumba said. “It’s better for me to resign than to give up my respect and dignity over this, because my kids know that is what I am really fighting for.”

But Carumba admits that her daily hustle to get by became significantly more complicated on Oct. 4, when she decided to give up her paycheck in the hopes of offering her three children more stable lives that include quality time with her.

Carumba and her late husband worked on an international cruise ship for 14 years, a job that would take them away from their children, who lived with family members in Manila, Philippines, for six months at a time.

Following her husband’s death, Carumba decided to join her sister in San Francisco in 2010, because she said her children did not want her to return to the cruise ship.

“They lost their father and they wanted their mother,” said Carumba.

While Carumba’s shifts on the picket line mirror her work schedule at the Marriott, her paycheck does not. Her hours at the Marriott can be unpredictable, but at least she says she can depend on a fixed hourly wage of $23.65.

While on strike, she earns a union weekly stipend of just $400.

Last month, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson turned down an invitation by a city supervisor to attend a hearing in an effort to discuss an ongoing labor dispute and strike, and said in an open letter that Marriott employees are “well-compensated,” among other things.

Carumba, who also works a night job as a driver for the on-demand food delivery service DoorDash, shook her head in disappointment at Sorenson’s remarks.

“His family is in a big house, with the big rooms, with their own money. Of course he cannot feel us,” said Carumba.

Shortly before 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Carumba helped her 11-year-old son Elbert pick out a sweater tucked away deep in a closet that — just like the single room she currently rents in her sister’s San Leandro home — is shared by Elbert, Carumba, her 19-year-old daughter Norielle, and her 9-year-old son Louie.

She had already been up for over an hour, because on Tuesday’s she drops Norielle, who attends San Francisco State University, off at the San Leandro BART station at 6:30 a.m. Carumba then returns to her sister’s home to watch over her sons as they prepare for school.

Elbert and Louie are enrolled in the free lunch programs at their middle and elementary schools, and the doors open at 7:30 a.m. After dropping them off at their respective schools, Carumba raced back to the BART station, parked her car, and caught the 8 a.m. train to San Francisco.

The ride in takes about 25 minutes. Normally, Carumba prefers arriving at the Marriott early so that she has time to change and prepare for her 9 a.m. shift. Her eight hour-day would entail servicing 14 rooms, leaving her with roughly 30 minutes to clean each room to the Marriott’s standards — if she takes a lunch, which she often does not.

On Tuesday, she exited the BART station and headed straight to the picket line .

Carumba’s work day does not end when the protesters switch shifts outside of the Marriott. She must catch the 5:02 p.m. train back to San Leandro to scoop her sons up from school.

On most nights, Carumba will sign in to her DoorDash app, and the family sets out to cruise San Leandro and the surrounding cities while awaiting orders to come in.

On Tuesday, the first order arrived rather quickly — a pickup at an Asian Fusion restaurant in San Leandro, which she dropped off to a local trailer park community.

Thirty minutes were spent waiting for the next order, which took the family to Hayward and then on to Castro Valley. As Elbert and Louie grew impatient in the back seat, Carumba turned around to chide them in Tagalog.

“I’m telling them if they don’t quit I will leave them on the sidewalk,” she said with a smile. After the two deliveries, she signed off the app and drove home, having earned $19.42.

Carumba began working at the Marriott in 2012. Also working at a laundromat to supplement income at the time, Carumba was able to afford a one-bedroom apartment in San Leandro, but was evicted earlier this year after her landlord renovated the building and offered up a bigger unit for twice the price as Carumba’s only way to return.

Carumba said she felt a change in the way things were run at Marriott several years ago, when the “Make a Green Choice” program was implemented. The company describes the program as an effort to address environmental issues by incentivizing hotel guests to opt out of housekeeping services.

She is now required to clean “green choice” rooms —which haven’t been serviced for three days at a time — as part of her 14-room per day quota, but is not given more time to do so.

“How much more dirty do you think those rooms get that we don’t clean everyday?” she said.

Carumba said that her biggest ask of her employer is assurance that her family’s health care coverage remains affordable.

She also hopes for more time with her children.

“Give me two dollars more each month, it’s fine with me. I only live a simple life,” said Carumba, through tears. “But I don’t want my kids to experience growing up without anybody by their side.”

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