Conference presenters stand with Stamford hotel workers in contract fight

Dec. 2018 Stamford NEMA delegation

NEMA presenter and workers lead a delegation to Hilton hotel management in Stamford, Conn., on Nov. 8. (Photo: Azulita Cielo)

 By ERNIE GOTTA

Union hotel workers across the country are fighting and striking against an all-out offensive of hotel owners to crush the standard of living won through decades of struggle.

In Chicago nearly all hotels in the city went out on strike. After three weeks, hotel bosses were ready to come to the table and give workers guaranteed health care during the winter months when layoffs are a reality of the industry. Similarly, unionized Marriott workers from Boston to Hawaii have been out on strike for weeks. Workers want their wages to reflect the living conditions in the cities where they live and work.

It is not uncommon in the hotel industry for housekeepers, servers, cooks, front-desk agents, and drivers to work more than one job. Yet the Boston Globe reports, “Marriott is the largest and wealthiest hotel company in the world. The company earned $22.9 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and has a net worth of $46.8 billion dollars almost twice that of its nearest competitor, Hilton.”

Hotel workers know how much the Marriott profits from their labor. On average each housekeeper making $25 per hour in a union hotel makes the company $1 million per year. Daily these workers service the multinational billion dollar companies that house their traveling execs. Still, workers are forced to seek additional employment to make rent—and they’ve had enough. The picket lines were filled with signs reading, “One Job Should be Enough!”

These Marriott contract fights are high profile, as athletes and celebrities are confronted with the question of crossing the picket line. In Boston, the New York Yankees were widely derided by union supporters for flagrantly crossing the picket. Meanwhile, the rapper and member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man, refused to cross the picket line and was praised for his solidarity.

Similarly, Connecticut hotel workers have been on the picket line demanding better wages, health care, and pensions. Three hotels organized by Unite Here Local 217 have been fighting for good contracts in 2018. In recent weeks, two of the hotels, the Hartford Hilton and New Haven Omni, settled contracts with gains for the workers in health care and wages. A vigorous and militant rank-and-file campaign that mobilized workers in every department of the hotel won their demands.

In Stamford, after winning the union vote 110-5 on Dec. 4, 2017, the struggle for a first contract at the Hilton hotel continues. Hotel workers were flooded with support the first week in November as the New England Museum Association (NEMA) released a statement that it would not renew its contract with the Hilton Stamford until a fair labor agreement was reached.

Leading up to the conference there was a vigorous debate on Twitter among NEMA members using the hashtag #NEMA2018. Many presenters refused to cross the picket line. Others canceled their hotel rooms. NEMA presenter @RaineyTisdale tweeted, “I cancelled my @Hiltonstamford reservation and I’m talking with my co-presenters about alternative venues for our sessions. One of my first museum jobs was at the AFL-CIO’s museum, and it taught me the importance of labor movements.”

Pampi, who uses the handle @ThirdEyeFell, was one presenter who moved off site to the union hall. Pampi tweeted, “Organizers of ‘Protest of Power: when the people curate’ have moved panel to @unitehere217 union hall Thu 2:45-4:15. As culture workers for labor justice we stand with workers where @NEMAnet holding #nema2018 conference #supportstrike #dontbreakpicket #boycotthilton.”

The hotel lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. On Nov. 7, Yrvonne Lecont, a Hilton housekeeper, and Donald Jean-Marie, a rank-and-file member of Local 217, and bellmen at the Hyatt Greenwich addressed an auditorium filled with NEMA conference goers. They received thunderous applause during the keynote address. On Nov. 8, a delegation of museum curators with workers by their side confronted hotel bosses directly and demanded that the hotel sign a contract to improve the wages, health care, and working conditions.

Reading through management responses to conference guest reviews on TripAdvisor.com, it is easy to see the impact of solidarity from the conference. For example, DenizB660, manager at the Hilton Stamford Hotel wrote, “You are one of many members of your group who believe false Union rhetoric and would not listen to any attempts by management to present the facts. Closed, biased minds prevent true understanding of circumstances to which you have no knowledge whatsoever. Most of what you have stated here is false and ultimately hurts the people you claim to care for.”

If management responds to hotel guests in this hostile way, imagine how they treat their workers!

This type of pressure on management will go a long way toward winning demands at the bargaining table. We ask all of our readers in the Connecticut and New York area to keep an eye out for upcoming picket lines and actions in Stamford. Hilton Stamford workers deserve a great contract now!