Marriott employees protest over wage increases, safer working conditions

The Marriott Marquis San Francisco. Photo credit: Marriott International (Marriott International’s workers are taking to the streets with a list of demands including higher wages, safer working conditions and improved protections against sexual harassment.)

Thousands of Marriott International employees are taking to the streets today with a list of demands including higher wages, safer working conditions and improved protections against sexual harassment.

Like the recent protest held by the Las Vegas Culinary Union, Marriott’s workers are vacating their jobs amid contract negotiations that affect an estimated 12,000 employees. Unite Here, a union representing hotel, foodservice, casino and warehouse employees in North America, is banking on these protests leading to more favorable contracts for workers in Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle and Honolulu.

After acquiring Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide nearly two years ago, Marriott International became the world’s largest hotel company, commanding more than 6,500 properties across 127 countries. Last year, Marriott recorded $1.3 billion in profits on revenue of nearly $23 billion. As a result, much of the industry uses Marriott as a benchmark for success, and often imitates its policies. Rachel Gumpert, a spokesperson for Unite Here, told Money that improvements in Marriott’s worker contracts could have a positive impact on the hotel industry at large.

“We know that every brand looks to what Marriott is giving workers to set the standard for what they need to do,” Gumpert told Money. “If we’re able to secure these changes, not only will it impact more workers, but we’ll also be raising standards for the entire industry.”

These demands are rooted in the concept of a living wage, or a wage capable of supporting an individual without requiring him or her to seek a second job. According to the Harvard Business Review, while the U.S. economy has grown steadily over the past few years, the hourly inflation-adjusted wages received by the typical U.S. worker have continued to increase just 0.2 percent per year since the 1970s. As a result, wage increases have failed to keep up with the cost of living in many major U.S. cities.

“A lot of these workers are single-car families or no-car families, and you should be able to have one job and live within reasonable proximity of where you work and be able to pay your bills without going into debt,” Rick Bates, research analyst for the San Diego chapter of Unite Here, told the San Diego Union Tribune. “We’re trying to raise awareness, to make Marriott realize what they’re paying workers is not conducive to a quality of life.”

Changes to employee wages, if any, will have to take place during contract negotiations and few specifics have been provided by Unite Here prior to the protests. However, wages aren’t all that’s at stake for Marriott’s workers, who are also asking for better protections for employees facing sexual assault. The union is looking to pressure Marriott into providing panic buttons for employees to keep on their person for use in the event of an emergency.

“I don’t think Marriott wants an unsafe environment at all, but sometimes you’ve got to force people to do the right thing,” Unite Here national president D. Taylor told Buzzfeed in a statement.

Marriott has declined to comment on the negotiations with Unite Here, but released a statement in response:

“While the negotiation process is moving forward, Unite Here and some of its members are engaged in demonstrations (Wednesday) to express their views on important issues. Marriott is a company that values the contributions of all our associates, and we respect the right of people to voice their opinions.”

“The reason why we’re doing this campaign, though, is that they should be leading the entire industry with the best standards for workers across the board,” Gumpert told Money. “We’re going to be holding [Marriott] accountable to be fulfilling the role with the best wages and working conditions for its employees.”