OAKLAND, Calif. - Any Oakland Marriott City Center hotel guests hoping to sleep late got a surprise Feb. 3 as hundreds of hotel workers and their supporters - including many building trades workers - marched at dawn beneath their windows, making the walls ring with their chants and noisemakers.
For the workers who have been seeking a new contract since last May, and their union, Unite Here! Local 2850, the biggest issue is the one headlining union negotiations around the country - health care and the efforts of giant corporations to shift more and more of the cost onto the backs of their workers.
"We gave up big raises in order to keep our health coverage," Carmen Rodriguez, a housekeeping supervisor at the Marriott and Local 2850 vice president, told the World. Now, she said, the workers don't see the hotel management coming up with satisfactory proposals either for wages or for health coverage. "If I had to pay what they're proposing for health care," she said, "I'd have to choose between food and medical insurance."
Excessive workloads are also at issue in the talks, Rodriguez said. "In the past, our housekeepers have often suffered on-the-job injuries. We believe that lowering their workloads would help a lot to cut down on these injuries."
Pensions are another issue, with management having stopped matching workers' contributions to their 401k plans and the workers calling for a union pension plan. The local also seeks contract language requiring major renovations at the hotel to be done by union contractors, as is the case in San Francisco, because, the union says, hotel workers don't want the disruptions that accompany labor disputes involving other unions.
The many hard hats in the crowd signaled the presence of building trades workers - electricians, laborers, carpenters and others. As commute hour traffic began to fill surrounding streets and sidewalks, Andreas Cluver, who heads the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, told a brief rally, "As construction workers, we understand what it is to have good wages, real health care and a real pension. These are some of the foundations of our building trades unions and the hotel workers need to have the same thing. We're sending a message that we're going to fight together on our issues."
Local 2850's president, Wei Ling Huber, said that while sometimes the situations of hotel workers and building trades workers seem quite different, both are "fighting for fair workloads, for safety, to stop the injuries. It's the same stuff," she said, "the same bad employers trying to take advantage of people, pushing people to work harder, trying to get the cheapest deal possible."
When the Marriott's management wondered why the hotel workers care about the renovations, Huber said, "we told them, 'It's about getting together, it's about protecting our standards.' And that's the kind of labor movement I want to be part of. We're going to keep fighting because we're stronger together."
Photo: Workers join together across industry lines to support hotel workers in their contract fight. Marilyn Bechtel/PW