The Marriott Strike Helped Grow The Largest Hotel Workers Union

Unite Here just won four union elections at Marriott properties, victories it traces in part to the 2018 work stoppage.

A labor union representing Marriott workers says it’s building off the success of a large strike last year to add new members inside the world’s largest hotel chain.

Nearly 8,000 Marriott employees in eight cities took part in the work stoppages in October and November, under the rallying cry “one job should be enough.” The strike grabbed national headlines and ended with higher wages and better health care for housekeepers and other hotel staff.

Since then, the workers’ union, Unite Here, has won elections at non-union Marriott properties in Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego and Irvine, California. The four wins have added more than 1,000 new members to Unite Here’s ranks, expanding their footprint within a brand that historically hasn’t been easy for the union to organize.

Workers and supporters picket outside the Sheraton Boston by Marriott in Boston on Oct. 3, 2018. The hotel was part of an 8-city strike waged by Unite Here.
Workers and supporters picket outside the Sheraton Boston by Marriott in Boston on Oct. 3, 2018. The hotel was part of an 8-city strike waged by Unite Here.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

The union’s president, D. Taylor, said the high-profile strike gave them a significant boost in those efforts, allowing members to show non-members the gains they were making in unionized hotels.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Taylor said. “They saw workers standing together and achieving good things. And we had leaders from Marriott hotels talk to people in non-union Marriott hotels, just like in any organizing campaign.”

He added, “If we don’t seize the moment now, we’re crazy.”

The fact the union parlayed its strike into membership gains is good news for organized labor more broadly. Buoyed by a tighter labor market and a groundswell of organizing among teachers, more workers went on strike last year than in any since 1986. Large-scale work stoppages have continued into 2019, with more than 30,000 Stop & Shop grocery workers walking off the job in April.

Labor activists have hoped the strikes would fire up not just the participants but workers watching from afar, too. That was certainly the case with the wave of teacher walkouts last year. Teachers in West Virginia waged a nine-day strike over school funding and compensation, helping to inspire teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona to do the same.

“They saw workers standing together and achieving good things.”

- D. Taylor, president of Unite Here

In the case of Marriott, Unite Here happened to have contracts in several different cities expiring at the same time. So the union held a series of strike authorization votes in September, enabling workers around the country to go on strike concurrently if they weren’t satisfied by the company’s offers. Having workers at so many different properties onboard gave the union strength in numbers and more publicity when they started picketing.

The strikes lasted more than two months in some cases and involved more than 20 properties under the Marriott, Sheraton and Westin banners. (Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels and its brands in 2016, making it the largest hotel company in the world.)

While the wage increases varied from city to city, workers in San Francisco, where the series of strikes ended, gained a $4 pay bump over the course of the four-year contract, as well as higher pension benefits. Housekeepers also won new protections against sexual harassment, including the use of GPS-based panic buttons and new caps on their workloads.

After the work stoppage ended, Unite Here sent strikers from a Marriott property in Detroit to speak with employees at the Marriott property in Baltimore where workers would soon vote to unionize. Nia Winston, president of Unite Here Local 24 in Detroit, said the visit made sense, given the similar demographics of the two predominantly African American workforces.

Winston took along a shop steward and a young woman who’d emerged as a leader during the strike. They talked to the Baltimore workers about what was in their new contract and how they executed the strike.

“They were asking us, ‘What did you all get?’” Winston recalled. “It was just awesome. I want another field trip.”

The union won the Baltimore election in early May.

Taylor said the union has more hotel elections in the works, though he declined to share details.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun over the next year,” he said.

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