Houskeepers strike at Boston hotel for right to unionize

Last week, the housekeeping staff at the Hilton Doubletree Suites hotel in Allston, Mass., commenced a 24-hour strike, demanding the hotel allow the workers to unionize without fear of retaliation.

The Boston Business Journal reported that the strike was organized by the Unite Here Local 26 union. The hotel is owned by Harvard University. Rosa Greenberg, a spokeswoman for Unite Here, told the Boston Business Journal that a majority of the hotel's workers agreed to pursue a union election, submitting a formal request to officials at the university in March 2013, requesting that Harvard remain neutral. According to Greenberg, Harvard has yet to commit.

Though the workers are not picketing the property, the Boston Globe reported that some staff members who were scheduled to work during the protest chose to demonstrate instead. The protestors were backed up by approximately 700 students, religious workers and hotel and food service workers from around the city.

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“There has never been a hotel workers’ strike in Boston that housekeepers have participated in,” Tiffany Ten Eyck, an organizer with Unite Here, told the Boston Globe. “We have a tremendously good relationship with the hotels in Boston.”

Hotel workers are gaining interest in unionizing, including the doomed Revel hotel in Atlantic City, which pushed for unionization in early March. As for the properties that are able to unionize, or who already have unions in place, the are pushing for increases in wages and benefits. Two Boyd casinos in Las Vegas and the Caesars Windsor hotel and casino in Ontario, Canada, avoided union strikes earlier this year after settling contract disputes over benefits and wages. In all three of these properties, the workers were prepared to leave their posts should they not come to an agreement with management.

This is a trend for the industry, as seen with the meteoric wage increase in Los Angeles, Calif., which approved a $15 an hour minimum wage this year, the genesis of which was covered by Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times. 

Meanwhile, the American Hotel & Lodging Association released a survey in conjunction with WageWatch in September showing that nearly 40 percent of respondents already pay their employees above the minimum wage. This survey was seeking to highlight the negative consequences of extreme wage initiatives taking place throughout the country, which could potentially damage small businesses.

“Hotel employees are the backbone of our industry," Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AH&LA, said at the time. "That’s why it’s especially troubling that in cities like Los Angeles, small business hotel owners are being singled out by union-backed extreme wage initiatives that will hurt those seeking to get on the ladder of opportunity.”