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Bay Area Marriott Workers Strike Alongside Others Nationwide

Illustration by Kiran Aranha

Nine hundred San Francisco Marriott Marquis workers of the union Unite Here Local 2 (UHL2) went on strike in October along with Marriott workers in seven other American cities, including Oakland, to demand better  benefits for workers.

Workers plan to strike until they achieve this goal. So far, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis has not come close to reaching an agreement with the union.

The San Francisco Marriott workers’ strike began on October 4. The workers have picketed from 5 AM to midnight ever since the start of the strike. The UHL2’s contract expired in mid-August. UHL2 has been negotiating a new contract since the beginning of the summer, but Marriott has yet to meet their terms. This is the first time UHL2 Marriott workers have gone on strike.

Concerns of the union also include automation. Danyka Kosturak, a cocktail waitress at the Marriott since about 1996 and a member of UHL2, said that the Marriott will likely replace many of its cocktail waiters with a machine in the near future. She also said that “someone’s who’s worked here for 23 years … will never be able to retire [on] minimum wage in the city.”  Kosturak and others said they “want a voice at the table” when it comes to automation.

The green choice program, another concern of UHL2, offers guests incentives to decline housekeeping. It allows Marriott to pay housekeepers for fewer hours.

Marriott has been hiring strikebreakers. Jessica Etheridge, a waitress who has worked for Marriott for about fifteen years and a member of UHL2, said that “scabs” break strikes because they are “desperate”.  Etheridge has been handing guests flyers in taped-off rectangles the Marriott lets union workers stand in. She hopes to inform guests who told her news “is too scary to watch,” and to tap into informed guests’ “guilt” to convince them to stay in another hotel.

However, because she lives on tips, she feels “scared” at the prospect of guests not returning, so she apologizes for the inconvenience and assures them it is not their fault. She also participates in the picket line.

Police arrested Etheridge and other strikers on October 12 for committing civil disobedience. The president of UHL2 organized the arrests to gain publicity. She called the “sacrifice” of building a criminal record “moving” and said that the police treated them with respect.

Etheridge said that the Teamsters’ joining the picket lines on October 18 significantly boosted morale. Marriott strikers in Baltimore, currently fighting to form their own union, joined the strike on October 18 as well.

UHL2 particularly encouraged supporters to join the picket lines on October 20.

The East Bay Democratic Socialists of America (EBDSA) encouraged its members to join the picket lines.

Hannah Ehrlinspiel, a member of the steering committee of the EBDSA, said joining the movement increases a strike’s “people power.” Understanding that dynamic, a march against Brett Kavanaugh that took place earlier this month stopped by the Marriott to show solidarity with the other strikers. 

The San Francisco Marriott Marquis’ Department of Human Resources did not respond to the Jacket’s request for comment over the phone, and the Marriott security did not allow anyone, including reporters, to enter the hotel without a reservation while the strike was taking place.