Hotel workers march in 18 cities on May Day
"We want to defend automatic daily housekeeping because rooms are dirtier and harder for us if they go multiple days without cleaning," a San Francisco housekeeper said. Housekeepers report daily cleaning is better for dealing with trash and results in using less harmful chemicals for cleaning. | Unite Here

WASHINGTON –Hotel workers in 18 cities marched on May Day, the international workers holiday, for new contracts with significant raises.

Marshaled by the union, Unite HERE, workers at major convention city hotels in Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Detroit, Philadelphia, Toronto, Baltimore, New Haven, Conn., and elsewhere demanded better wages and working conditions from three major hotel chains: Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt. Bargaining has begun with managements in D.C., Boston, and Honolulu.

The Illinois AFL-CIO urged marchers nationwide by reminding workers, in a tweet, that “In America, the International Labor Day originates from an 1886 Chicago protest for an 8-hour workday.” The protest was Haymarket, leading to a travesty of justice with eight workers’ leaders wrongly convicted of responsibility for throwing a fatal bomb.

“We’ve come a long way, but many challenges remain. Yet on the heels of historic victories and new worker protections, the energy this year is undeniable,” the Illinois federation added.

Notable exceptions to the Unite HERE marches: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago, where the union reached new contracts with bosses at the three chains’ hotels. A dozen hotels in the Los Angeles area reached tentative contracts with Unite HERE Local 11 in the week before May Day. Workers at a total of 46 Los Angeles and Orange County hotels have signed new contracts.

A typical L.A.-area pact was at the Le Delfina Meridien in Santa Monica: A $5 hourly raise in its first year, adding $10,400 yearly to workers’ paychecks, raises of 40%-50% for non-tipped workers over the contract’s four and a half years, larger pensions, $35 an hour pay by July 1, 2027 for most room attendants, mandatory daily room cleaning and guaranteed pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Pre-pandemic staffing is important to all the hotel workers. Hotel staffs are down 13 percent per occupied room, compared to the last pre-pandemic year, Unite HERE reports.

The Le Deflina pact also adds Juneteenth as a paid holiday and “unprecedented language for the fair treatment of workers impacted by the criminal justice system and protections of immigrant rights,” Local 11 said.

And workers in the nation’s top convention city, Las Vegas, reached pacts late last fall, after taking strike authorization votes involving almost all the hotel workers in the Las Vegas strip.

Got a 10 percent raise

More than 40,000 Las Vegas hotel workers, members of two Unite HERE locals, got a 10% raise in the first year of their five-year contract with the hotels on the strip and 32% over the life of the pact.

Unite HERE decided in the last round of contract negotiations with the convention city hotels to have all the contracts—those that are up this year—expire on May Day. That would prevent hotel bosses from playing off one city’s workers against another.

The contracts with the three big chains are the first since before the coronavirus pandemic hit, and that modern-day plague hit hotels harder than any other industry in the country. Unite HERE found virtually all its hotel members were jobless.

The three chains employ approximately 40,000 workers, combined. But as the pandemic receded and hotels slowly reopened, workers found the bosses keeping staff and service cuts they implemented during the restricted capacities the pandemic mandated. The changes reduced housekeeping, laundry service, and hotel restaurant staffing.

So a key issue of the May Day marchers was to reverse those staffing cuts. They’re also demanding “significant” raises, taking the settlements last year that the United Auto Workers won from the Detroit automakers and the Teamsters won from UPS as examples.

“There have been a series of staffing and service cuts that have led to both painful working conditions for the workers and reduced services for the guests,” new Unite HERE President Gwen Mills told the Reuters wire service.

Since the pandemic began, and once the hotels reopened, they scaled back services and staffing while boosting room rates to records, Unite HERE says. The service cuts remain.

“The hotel industry’s gross operating profit was 26.63% higher in 2022 than 2019, but hotel workers report heavy workloads, loss of hours, and jobs that aren’t enough to afford the cost of living,” the union says.

“It’s time for hotels to reverse staffing cuts so we can give guests the best possible service,” Delmy Munguia, a bartender at the DoubleTree by Hilton Boston Cambridge said. “I loved welcoming customers with a nice cocktail. But after COVID, they reduced our hours, and now the lounge opens later. Not only does this hurt the guests, but it hurts me because I can’t get enough work to pay all my bills.”

“We want to defend automatic daily housekeeping because rooms are dirtier and harder for us if they go multiple days without cleaning,” Marriott W Hotel San Francisco housekeeper Tammy Tam said.

“It stresses me out. It hurts my knees and shoulders because I have to scrub harder to get all the grime off the bathtub and lift more wet towels. Automatic daily housekeeping is good for guests and workers, because guests love coming back to a clean room every day, and it protects us housekeepers from stress, pain, and injury.”

“Housekeepers report daily cleaning is essential to manage their difficult job. Daily is best for managing trash, tackling tough stains, and using less chemicals,” Unite HERE said on its website. It also helps prevent bedbug infestations.

“Fewer rooms to clean means fewer jobs for housekeepers. Unite HERE estimates ending daily housekeeping would eliminate up to 39% of all U.S. hotel housekeeping jobs and cost housekeepers—overwhelmingly women of color—$4.8 billion in annual lost wages.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.