The Westin Seattle workers joined hotel employees in five other cities throughout the nation by voting Sept. 14 to authorize a strike against Marriott International. If a contract is not reached with the hospitality company, the strike would be the first one at The Westin Hotel in over 30 years.
Members of Unite Here Local 8— a union that represents hospitality workers in Washington and Oregon— are demanding higher wages, greater job stability and safer work conditions after their contract expired in late May. Many of the employees say that they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and that their work schedule is often unpredictable.
Mohammed Faik, a 41-year-old line cook at The Westin Seattle, says that he also has to drive Uber to pay for the mortgage on his Northgate home. “We need to get the company to treat us right, and we need a raise,” Faik says. Although he’s cooked at the hotel for nearly two decades, Faik says that his wages have not kept pace with the city’s rising cost of living. His elongated work hours have limited the time that he spends with his children to the brief moments when he picks them up from school. Faik customarily begins work at 4 a.m., then drives Uber for several hours before returning home in the evening. “The kids are growing up very fast, and I’m not spending time with them,” Faik says. “It’s not right for them and for me.”
Another cook at the hotel, Ayshad Hajiyeva, says that her $17.50 hourly wages makes it difficult to afford rent payments. She’ll need to find a second job if her wages don’t increase, she says. “I work very hard, and after work I’m getting very tired; I’m like dead. And I cannot have another job,” the 59-year-old adds. “This is why one job should be enough; this is our slogan.” Hajiyeva would like increased wages to afford a car and to send remittances back to her sister in the Georgia Republic, where she is seeking cancer treatment.
Furthermore, her husband also works at the hotel as a dishwasher, but his schedule is often unpredictable. The couple mostly has to rely on her income when her husband’s work shifts are cut down to two days a week.
Unite Here Local 8 organizer Abby Lawlor says that workers are also seeking expanded eligibility for healthcare and for greater job security as the increased use of automation phases out jobs. For instance, automatic check-ins at hotels have become more commonplace throughout the nation. “If folks get a raise it doesn’t actually matter at the end of the day if the department is eliminated,” Lawlor explains.
The 2016 passage of Initiative 124 — a union-backed measure designed to protect hotel workers from sexual harassment and workplace hazards — has improved conditions at hotels by equipping workers with panic buttons, limiting housekeeper workloads, and improving access to health care, among other provisions. Yet Lawlor says that other practices at the hotel are creating unsafe work environments for housekeepers.
She notes that financial incentive programs for guests such as Make a Green Choice, which allows guests to decline full housekeeping services for up to three days, increases the workload for housekeepers. The workers are not given additional time to prepare the room for the next guest, which creates more physical strain on the workers, Lawlor says. “Their hours are cut, their schedule becomes less predictable and they may not qualify for health insurance or bring home the money they need to pay for rent or to support themselves,” Lawlor adds.
Marriott International remains confident that the hospitality company and the union will agree on a contract before employees form a picket line. “Through many years of working with Unite Here, we have always taken the negotiation process seriously and reached agreements. We have no reason to believe that this negotiation process will be any different,” a Marriott spokesperson wrote in a statement emailed to Seattle Weekly. “We respect the right of our associates to voice their opinions on issues that are important to them. Should the union and our employees choose to strike, our hotels will continue to operate and work to minimize any disruption and to provide the excellent service that our guest have come to expect.”
The decision to authorize a strike follows the arrest of 21 hotel workers who demanded better wages by demonstrating outside The Westin Seattle on Sep. 3. The Marriott workers joined the ranks of more than 100 people arrested at similar protests held throughout the country that day.