A rare Friday afternoon Board of Supervisors hearing on the Marriott hotel workers strike drew hundreds of people to City Hall to testify about low pay, high healthcare benefit costs, and a stark lack of job security. The strikers are just now entering their second month, with more than 2,000 tireless employees who relentlessly march more than 12 hours each day outside Marriott’s seven hotels across the city.
The hearing, called by Supervisor Hillary Ronen, time and again returned to the topic of corporate responsibility and Marriott’s obligations to its employees, their families, and the city of San Francisco.
“This is the biggest strike S.F. has seen in any industry in more than a generation,” Ronen said at the start of the meeting. “I know that going on strike is one of the hardest decisions anyone can make. When thousands of San Franciscans feel the need to lay down their tools and walk off the job it is a sign that something is not right in our city.”
In the first few minutes of the hearing, UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh disclosed that the average wage for a Marriott employee in San Francisco is $44,000. In contrast, CEO Aren Sorensen makes $13 million annually. The Marriott hotel corporation is worth more than $49 billion, and employs more people that Google, Salesforce, and Facebook combined.
Although hundreds of workers put down their picket signs and abandoned their posts to speak up at City Hall Friday, one key player was missing: Not a single representative from Marriott attended, despite being explicitly invited.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman slammed Sorensen for his failure to appear.
“I am struck by the disrespect by not responding to Ronen’s request to come here,” he said. “The arrogance that corporation feels shows through in the letter that they gave us.”
Many workers cried as they stepped up to the mic, telling heart-wrenching stories of their struggles.
“I’ve worked at the W Hotel for eight years as a bellhop,” said a man named Julian. “During that time I’ve had to work two jobs to make ends meet. I’ve also had to work lots of overtime. I once worked 32 hours straight. Even with all this I don’t feel like my wife and I can afford to live in this city or have children, which is pretty grim.”
Families of the workers were a front-and-center issue, with many single mothers taking the mic, voicing their concern about job security, rent prices, and healthcare. One grandmother, who’s worked at a Marriott for 16 years, said she had to have her children move into her apartment because it takes three incomes to pay her $2,650 rent.
Carlos, a banquet worker at Marriott Marquis, says that he’s on strike to demand a better family health plan. “I cover myself, my wife, and my three daughters with my healthcare,” he said. “My oldest daughter has a pacemaker and relies on having medical benefits to survive. We cannot afford to pay more family medical benefits.”
Other, older employees are terrified of retiring. “We are asking Marriott to pay into our pensions so we can retire with dignity in the communities where we’ve lived and work, where we’ve spent our lives,” said Steve, a bartender at Marriott Union Square. “We’re asking for all of this at a time when Marriott is making record profits. If a rising tide lifts all boats, why is the Marriott not able to lift the boats of their workers?”
The hearing ended after two hours, with hundreds more workers who couldn’t fit in the Board of Supervisors’ chamber watching TV screens in nearby overflow rooms. Their future is unclear, but the ask from the city isn’t.
“What I’m asking Marriott to do is to sign the contract,” Ronen said. “You can be a leader and you can show other companies what it means to actually respect the people who make you a profitable company.”
Supervisor Norman Yee threatened to raise hotels taxes, to pay for the benefits they’re not providing their employees, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“We’re behind you and we hear you,” Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer told the strikers, as she held back tears.
For the strikers, who have been fighting on the front lines for weeks, the chance to speak in front of City Hall and be heard was priceless.
“I served five years in MarineCorps and I’ve never felt more American than I do at this moment,” said St. Regis doorman Fredo Mauricio.