Daily Labor Report®

Marriott Workers Would Rather Wash Your Towels Daily (2)

Sept. 19, 2018, 10:40 AMUpdated: Sept. 19, 2018, 10:25 PM

A strike could occur “very soon” at Marriott-branded properties in eight U.S. cities, and the workers’ union is blaming a program that asks customers to forgo fresh sheets for a night.

Nearly 8,500 workers are prepared to strike in Boston, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, and on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Oahu, UNITE HERE spokesperson Rachel Gumpert told Bloomberg Law.

Marriott’s Green Choice program, like those in place at many hotels, is environmentally friendly but hurts workers by cutting their hours, she said.

The reduction in hours is “so significant that full time workers are no longer getting full time hours,” Gumpert said. She did not provide details on the amount of hours cut.

UNITE HERE has been holding strike authorization votes in the cities for the past few weeks, and workers could walk out “very soon,” Gumpert said.

The San Diego vote, approved Sept. 18, is the most recent. Workers there have been under an expired contract the longest of any group that is threatening to strike, since June 2017. The Detroit workers joined the effort Sept. 17.

Will Action Hurt Business?

Coordinated multiple-city job actions might create leverage for workers, but they aren’t always successful, labor professors told Bloomberg Law.

“Even though it’s a monster brand, it’s just one brand, it’s not the whole city,” Cornell University professor David Sherwyn told Bloomberg Law.

Marriott could withstand the job action by sending guests to nonunionized sister properties, for instance. Customers’ loyalty “is to their points program more than to the labor dispute,” he said.

Sherwyn praised the union’s leadership but said that Marriott also has keen negotiators onboard.

“They’re not foolish, but at the same time, the people who are negotiating on behalf of Marriott are really smart, too,” Sherwyn said. “Who will blink first?”

Marriott wouldn’t provide details about how it will staff properties if strikes occur. UNITE HERE represents housekeepers, doormen, and other service workers.

“Should the union and our employees choose to strike, just as in Chicago, our hotels will continue to operate and work to minimize any disruption,” Jeff Flaherty, a company spokesman, told Bloomberg Law.

The UNITE HERE national effort is separate from an ongoing strike in Chicago that began Sept. 7 and now includes 26 hotels, only some of which are operated by Marriott.

The national strike approach theoretically creates more leverage for employees, University of Houston professor Stephen Barth said. The same logic is applied when a union negotiating with a business with multiple locations tries to coordinate so the contracts will expire at the same time, Barth said.

“Only time will tell if it will be effective in this instance given Marriott’s size, scope, extraordinary resources and exceptional stature in the industry,” he told Bloomberg Law.

Green Is Good?

Marriott service employees are also seeking raises as part of the contract negotiations, but the Green Choice program is a major concern, Gumpert said. The program gives hotel guests the choice to skip housekeeping services for a day and continue using the same sheets and towels. That means workers don’t get as many hours, she said.

“The program takes advantage of well-intentioned guests who don’t realize that skipping daily housekeeping services” has repercussions for workers, Gumpert said.

Marriott’s Green Choice program has been in place since 2009, Flaherty told Bloomberg Law.

“Guests who choose to forego housekeeping for up to three consecutive days are offered a choice of points or a food and beverage credit as both a thank-you and incentive for helping us be more environmentally responsible,” Flaherty wrote in a Sept. 19 email.

Cornell University professor Rohit Verma, who studied the effects of sustainability efforts on the hospitality industry, said hotels with “green” programs tend to have higher guest satisfaction scores. Sustainability programs also save hotels money, he told Bloomberg Law.

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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