On top of the usual downtown street noise, there’s a steady new soundtrack in San Francisco this month: The beating of drums, ringing of bells, and chanting through bullhorns of 2,500 striking workers outside seven Marriott-owned hotels.
“The energy’s high,” says Lisa Correa, a banquet hall worker at the Marriott Marquis and a 26-year hotel employee. “We’re all taking turns on the bull horn — if I’ve got to rest my voice, we’re drumming the buckets. We’ve got our whistles out.”
“We’re just one day longer, one day stronger.”
By that metric, the workers are 27 days strong. The national action of 8,000 Marriott workers, a third of them in San Francisco, began on October 3 after contract negotiations with the hotel broke down this summer. Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will approve a meeting to hear from striking workers, who demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions from their employer.
Recognition from local politicians could prove powerful. But for strikers, there’s still no end in sight to the picket line. According to a labor organizer for Unite Here Local 2, which represents the workers, union leaders and Marriott management remain at distant ends of the bargaining table.
“As the largest employer in hospitality, they’re in a position where they could really step forward and try to do right by their employees,” Correa says. As it stands, “they continue to find ways to downsize the workforce, adding to our workload, and they’re doing whatever they can to not pay medical.”
Marriott estimates it will return more than $3 billion to its shareholders this year. In 2017, GOP tax cuts lowered the company’s effective tax rate by 8 percent, to 22 percent, creating a $200 million windfall. Marriott shared $140 million of that with employees in a one-time payment to retirement funds.
At the banquet hall inside the Marriott Marquis, Correa’s days are “very, very, very long,” starting with her commute to San Francisco from Fairfield. At times, she’s worked three jobs to support her two children: She and fellow workers hold signs reading “One Job Should Be Enough.”
When Marriott came to the bargaining table, it was with “some ridiculous proposals,” Correa says. Their ideas included three-hour shifts — Correa would never travel three-and-a-half hours a day to work one shift that short.
Kirk Paganelli, a bartender at the Marriott Courtyard, calls the company’s bargaining “arrogant.”
“I really enjoy crafting cocktails, creating a return guest system,” he says. “That’s the Marriott system, and I do my job well.” The Courtyard bar and others, like the View Lounge and the Pied Piper at the Palace Hotel, are affected by the strike.
Paganelli, a Marriott employee for 23 years, was laid off in 2013 when the Marriott hotel where he worked was purchased by a new owner. To keep his position, insurance, vacation, and seniority, he had to find a new Marriott job in 90 days or fewer. Fortunately he did — after 87.
That nerve-racking experience is one reason he’s on strike: To seek improved job security, including a seat at the table in negotiations when Marriott chooses to close a hotel bar or cafe.
“The dynamic has to be fair,” he says. “The playing field has to be level.”
In a statement, a Marriott representative says that “While we respect our associates’ rights to voice their opinions and participate in demonstrations and this work stoppage, we are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen to resort to a strike.... we continue to believe that the best place to resolve these issues is at the bargaining table.”
Marriott hotels remain open to downtown visitors, like the 600,000 attendees of this month’s Oracle CloudFest convention. Meanwhile, businesses like the Marquis and the Palace are staffed by a skeleton crew of management.
“It’s kind of a mess in there,” Correa says. “We have a lot to clean up when we get back.”
Many hotel guests this month have shown support to workers on the picket line, says Correa. But Paganelli hears negativity, too. “People tell us we’re wasting our time, Trump is breaking top the unions. We’re not giving in to that.”
“This is so much bigger than San Francisco, or even the hotel industry,” says Correa. “This is for workers in general, the working people.”