Striking Marriott workers focus on new technologies

More than 7,700 workers at Marriott International hotels are preparing to mobilize Saturday, Oct. 20, as talks between the hotel company and union Unite Here continue to deteriorate.
Marriott workers, such as those at Boston Marriott Copley Place, want to have a say in how new technologies will change their jobs. Photo credit: Marriott International

Robots delivering roomservice, self-check-in kiosks with facial-recognition technology and smart speakers that serve as an in-room concierge are not just ideas of the future—they are right here and now and are part of the reason Marriott International hotel employees are on strike across the U.S.

“I’m not against technology,” Juan Eusebio, a 32-year-old doorman at the W Hotel in Boston and a member of the local union’s negotiating team told the AP. “I just want any technology that comes in to help us do a better job, not take our jobs away.”

Marriott workers want to have a say in how new technologies will change their jobs. With robotics, algorithms and digital apps flooding the hospitality industry, Marriott workers want job security protections that allow them to be part of the innovation economy rather than victims of it. They want to be able to have a voice in how and where technology is implemented, be retrained for jobs in the digital age and have severance protections if jobs are eliminated.

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“We want to be equal partners so we have a voice in how that technology can be supportive of workers rather than disruptive,” said Anand Singh, president of the union's Local 2 in San Francisco. 

The largest strikes are taking place in Hawaii, Boston and San Francisco. The cities of Oahu and Maui in Hawaii have 2,700 Marriott workers on strike, San Francisco has 2,500 and Boston has 1,800, reports USA Today. Strikes also are occurring in Detroit and the California cities of San Diego, Oakland and San Jose. Almost two dozen hotels have been affected.

The striking employees are members of Unite Here, which has spent months in negotiations with Marriott. The contracts expired during July and August. The workers include housekeepers, front-desk attendants, restaurant employees, bellhops and almost anyone else not in a management position. In addition to the technology issues, employees are asking for increased wages and improved workplace safety.

“Marriott is the richest and most profitable hotel company in the world, and by taking them on in this historic hotel worker strike, Unite Here union members are going to change the lives of all workers in our industry,” Unite Here President D. Taylor told USA Today. 

Unite Here authorized the strikes three weeks ago. The union and Marriott returned to the negotiating table two weeks ago but so far have failed to reach an agreement. The company declined to address the union’s specific demands but said in a written statement that it is “disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike instead of attempting to resolve these disputes at the bargaining table.”

“During the strike our hotels are open, we have contingency plans in place and are activating those plans. We stand ready to serve our guests,” the company said. “While we respect our associates’ rights to participate in this work stoppage, we also will welcome any associate who chooses to continue to work.”

Housekeepers at these hotels also want Marriott to end or change its greenwashing program called Make a Green Choice. This program gives guests incentives to refuse housekeeping— which reduces the number of housekeepers needed. The program leaves many room attendants waiting by the phone at night to see if they have work in the morning, reports the Boston Globe.

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