Avery Nulph, a union captain with Unite Here Local 2, leads a chant as workers picket outside the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Avery Nulph, a union captain with Unite Here Local 2, leads a chant as workers picket outside the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Marriott CEO speaks out about strike, rejects invitation to meet with city supervisors

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson turned down an invitation by a city supervisor to attend a Board of Supervisors hearing in an effort to discuss an ongoing labor dispute that has resulted in a massive workers’ strike now stretching into its fourth week.

The union representing the hotel workers, UNITE HERE Local 2, has been in talks with Marriott since June, and employees have been working without contracts since then.

But the negotiations have not yielded the desired results, causing some 2,500 Marriott employees to strike at seven of the hotel giant’s San Francisco properties since Oct. 4, including at The Westin St. Francis and Palace Hotel.

Combined with San Francisco, a total of 7,700 workers have also joined the strike in Boston,Oahu, Maui, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and Detroit.

An Oct. 26 letter form San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen inviting Sorenson and the Marriott’s leadership to a board hearing this Friday to discuss the strike was met with rejection by Sorenson, who also had scathing words for the union, as was first reported by KQED.

“As it relates to the strikes that are currently taking place at seven Marriott Properties in San Francisco, the union has attempted to portray Marriott as a company that has both disregarded its bargaining obligations and denied its employees fair wages and benefits,” wrote Sorenson in his response, adding that this portrayal “couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Sorenson said that the company had hoped to reach an agreement with the union “months ago,” but that the union “seemed more interested in participating in a long planned multi-city, 23-hotel strike against Marriott” than “engaging in meaningful negotiations.”

Sorenson accused the union of taking advantage of “an extraordinary number of expiring labor contracts with Marriot to seek unprecedented changes in these contracts.”

Under the slogan “One job should be enough,” the union is demanding increased protections for the hotel workers as emerging technologies have replaced labor jobs and decreased workers’ hours, as well as additional workplace safety measures and higher wages, among other things.

Marriott employees increasingly report having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

A spokesperson for the union deferred comment on the letter to Ronen, who said that she is “very disappointed that the CEO of a company that makes so much money by operating in San Francisco and who could settle this strike today won’t take the time to attend this important hearing.”

“It sends the message that our city is just one more profit center, rather than a home for thousands of workers who are struggling every day.”

While Ronen and other city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, as well as the City’s labor unions have publicly backed the hotel workers’ strike, Marriott’s leadership has largely remained silent on the issue.

On Wednesday, Sorenson wrote that the strike was not a result of a “bargaining impasse in any city,” and speculated that it was a bargaining strategy on part of the union.

He added that Marriott employees are well-compensated, receive benefits including medical coverage, and that under the union’s current proposal, “the hotel’s wage and benefit costs for a full-time housekeeper would reach $100,000 in the third year of the contract.”

Union leaders have told the San Francisco Examiner previously that they plan to continue the strike until their demands are met.

This story has been updated.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.comBay Area News

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