Thousands of San Francisco hotel workers join strike

Hotel workers strike outside the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Thousands of housekeepers, cooks and other Marriott hotel workers are on strike in San Francisco and San Jose after months of negotiating for a wage increase. (AP Photo/Juliet Williams)
Hotel workers strike in front of a Marriott hotel Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018, in San Francisco. Thousands of housekeepers, cooks and other Marriott hotel workers are on strike in San Francisco and San Jose after months of negotiating for a wage increase. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of housekeepers, cooks and other workers at Marriott-affiliated hotels went on strike in San Francisco and San Jose on Thursday after months of negotiations for job security, a wage increase and what unions call work overloads.

About 2,500 Marriott hotel workers picketed outside at least seven hotels in downtown San Francisco, the heart of the city's tourist area. The hotels include the Ritz-Carlton, the Palace Hotel, the W Hotel and the Marriott Marquis. Another 200 walked out in San Jose, said Unite Here union spokeswoman Rachel Gumpert.

The strike came at the height of the city's busy convention season that brings tens of thousands of people to the city, but the company said its hotels would continue operating normally. Nearly 99 percent of the union's members authorized a strike last month.

San Francisco workers are among the highest paid in the country but their salaries are no longer enough to make ends meet and many workers have to work at least a second job, said Anand Singh, president of the Unite Here Local 2 union. The median monthly rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,400, according to apartment rental finder Zumper.

"For the Marriot corporation this is about dollars and cents but for our hotel workers is about our families, our livelihoods and our children," Singh said.

Hotel workers walked out at seven Marriott hotels in Boston on Wednesday in what union organizers said was that city's first hotel union strike. Strikes have also been authorized in San Diego, Detroit, Seattle, Oakland and Honolulu and workers could walk out at any time, Gumpert said.

Maryland-based Marriott said its proposal matches the "economic terms" of the last contract and does not propose any benefit changes.

"During the strike our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests," the company said in a statement. "While we respect our associates' rights to participate in this work stoppage, we also will welcome any associate who chooses to continue to work."

Peter Chaffo, a banquet service worker at San Francisco's Palace Hotel, said he was striking to demand Marriott does not cut workers' hours and health benefits as it he said it has proposed.

The union and the company declined to discuss specifics of the negotiations and proposals.

Chaffo, 47, has worked for the company for 27 years and commutes an hour each way from Concord, California. He makes nearly $26 an hour but said he would have to find several jobs to support his family if the company reduces his hours.

"The owners only think of their profits and would rather have part-time workers so they don't have to spend on benefits," Chaffo said.

"Their proposal is insulting to the workers who keep their hotels running," he added.

Negotiations with Marriott began in June for contracts covering nearly 2,500 San Francisco Marriott workers. Contract negotiations will ultimately affect 8,000 hotel workers at more than 50 San Francisco hotels, the union said.

Workers are also seeking greater protection from harassment from guests, which has been an issue for hotel workers nationwide. Singh, the Local 2 president, said Marriott and the union addressed the issue "in a way that is mutually agreeable," but wouldn't discuss details.

A five-year agreement to avert a strike of hotel workers recently in Las Vegas included a requirement to give all housekeepers wireless devices to alert security in the event of threats.

Marriott's portfolio includes over 6,700 hotels in 130 countries, spanning 30 brands. Marriott said it became the world's largest hotel company after its 2016 acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

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