Cannabis Conference Complicated by Hotel Strike

A marijuana trade show is in an awkward spot, as attendees are confronted with a picket line of striking Oakland Marriott workers.

(Joe Kukura)

Cannabis industry investors and entrepreneurs got an unwelcome surprise Thursday when they arrived at a three-day conference at the Oakland Marriott called the New West Summit. The Marriott hotel workers strike affecting seven San Francisco hotels has spread across the Bay, and the hotel at which this marijuana trade show is being held has picket lines at every entrance. Show attendees are confronted with the difficult decision of whether to cross the picket line, and the demonstrators’ presence is a constant reminder that Marriott employees feel they’re being low-balled on benefits and wages.

Inside the conference, black curtain structures were erected to block attendees’ views of the picketers. Extra security guards were on duty at the doors to let guests in with minimal hassle. But the demonstrators’ drum beats and chants of “No contract, no peace!” were clearly audible in the conference lobbies, and could even be heard from inside many of the speaker and panel sessions.

New West Summit executive director Jim McAlpine attempted to make a peace offering to the striking workers, stressing his support of their contract demands. He bought them several pizzas and dozens of bottles of water, and even offered them handfuls of free high-grade marijuana flower.  

The offer of free weed drew some mixed reactions.

“Let them eat cake, right?,” one striking Marriott employee said skeptically.

“If I had that bag of marijuana, in two minutes they’re going to call the cops on me,” said Safi Jami, another striking worker.

Others felt the offer was petty.

“We’re trying to get affordable medical coverage for workers and their families,” said picketer Wei-Ling Huber. “We’re trying to win fair workloads for the housekeepers and everybody else. We’re looking for job protection, and a little bit of weed isn’t going to do that.”

Some strikers did happily take some cannabis, and McAlpine was able to turn the contentious shouting match into agreements and hugs all around. He vowed to send an email to conference attendees to help raise funds for the striking workers.

“I completely support them,” McAlpine told SF Weekly after meeting  with the strikers. “They’re not being treated correctly or being paid fair wages, so I think they’re doing what they should, they’re striking.

“We had to do what we had to do for our own livelihood, and we understand that they have to do what they have to do for their own livelihood,” he added.

The Oakland Marriott workers decided to strike just last Friday, leaving the New West Summit with only a couple of days to make a decision on this year’s event.

“It’s thousands of people we would have affected if we had canceled this,” he explains. “Our company couldn’t financially sustain canceling this event. The Marriott, who I am not happy with right now, wouldn’t to refund us our money if we didn’t want to do the event.

“I had zero option to not do the event moving  forward once I heard about the strike.”

The cannabis conference has job fair scheduled for Saturday, and is planning to send the 25 hiring companies out to the striking workers to make them aware of available positions in the industry. Meanwhile, KQED reported Thursday that negotiations remain at a standstill, and a local union president said “this fight remains far from resolution.”

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