November 19, 2018

GUEST ROOM | The Marriott Strike: A Call to Action for Cornellians

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In a news story straight out of HADM: 4810: Labor Relations in the Hospitality Industry, thousands of UNITE HERE Marriott workers went on the “One Job Should Be Enough” strike starting October 4 across nine different U.S. tourism locations. A marriage of ILR and Hotel School studies, workers were — and still are — protesting a number of issues including stagnant wages, unstable work hours, inadequate health care and unsafe workloads despite Marriott’s rise in profits since the recession. While a few striking locations have reached agreements, San Francisco’s Marriott Hotel Strike will last through Thanksgiving week. Various locations in Hawaii are also still on UNITE HERE’s travel alert which lists which hotels are striking. In addition to the strike, temporary workers at the Marriott Marquis are alleging labor violations including retaliation and inadequate or delayed pay. The temporary workers working at the Marriot Marquis are hired by contractor Environmental Service Partners Inc. of Hayward, and are largely Latino immigrants.

As much as a strike can represent a crisis, it often does not garner the sympathy of a natural disaster, or the social media following of a sea of pussy hats. Strikes come with bullhorns, chanting, drums and defiance. They can cause traffic or cripple someone’s holiday getaway. But as many Cornell students know from various classes the University provides, a strike in the hospitality industry is often an indication of the exploitation of workers in more vulnerable professions. Stories from the Marriott strike and the UNITE HERE site tell stories of workers working multiple jobs to survive, receiving measly raises after decades of work, and barely seeing family after long hours. The New York Times even recently published an article on the Marriott Employees’ Federal Credit Union which takes in 52 cents in fees for every dollar of interest income, and often traps Marriott employees in a cycle of high fees.

As a resident of San Francisco, I’ve heard the chants of “One Job Should Be Enough” and seen picket lines across the city over the past two months. I’ve witnessed the persistence of the protesters and the apathy of the surrounding corporate employees, many who work in the tech industry. The Marriott strike has been a good reminder of my commitment to advancing the world of work, and the connection between the ILR School, the Hotel School and the real world.

I am writing this article in the hope that we are not a university, student body, faculty and alumni network that honors executives but turns a blind eye to exploitative labor practices. On June 2, 2009, the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration honored J.W. (Bill) Marriott, Jr., who was at the time chief executive officer of Marriott International, Inc. with the first Icon of the Industry Award for “lifelong leadership in the hospitality industry and for his extraordinary civic and philanthropic contributions.” I am asking that the same enthusiasm used to honor Marriott is mobilized to speak up against exploitative and harmful labor practices. And for those personally working in San Francisco, I hope you get out of your most-likely tech funded chair and do something to help those who may not be the most visible in their struggles.

I am hoping if you made it this far into the article, you are interested at minimum in awareness of the issue, and hopefully aim to be an active agent of change. Workers’ rights are human rights, and we are all stakeholders in the humanity of work. Alumni who care and who are working in relevant fields or for Marriott International specifically can reach out to friends, colleagues and mentors to voice concern for San Francisco and Hawaii Marriott workers. Everyone can vote with their hotel reservations for personal or business trips by doing their research on the FairHotel app, donating to the Unite Here Education and Support Fund, or signing the One Job Should Be Enough Pledge. Additionally, in the age of social media, everyone can stay informed on Twitter at #MarriottStrike and #1Job.

If you need motivation to support the #1Job strike, just think about all the amazing workers in the hospitality industry that make your business trips, romantic getaways or family vacations great. For those workers, this strike means protection from workplace violence and harassment, a livable wage, stable hours, adequate health care and more. For me, the employee that immediately came to mind was the Marriott housekeeper that mailed all the belongings I left behind in a hotel room in Jacksonville, FL. Thanks to her, I still have my favorite bathing suit.

Cecilia An ’14 is an alumna of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Guest Room runs periodically this semester. Comments may be sent to [email protected]