Detroit DSA Backs Hotel Strikers

Detroit DSA brought signs for themselves and others who were ready to join in at the Solidarity Rally. Photo by Dick Olson.

by Jane Slaughter

DSA members showed up in force for two downtown picket lines of striking hotel workers in October. Members of UNITE HERE Local 24 at the Westin Book Cadillac were part of an 8,000-worker-strong strike against the Marriott Corp. in seven cities.

Marriott is the world’s largest hotel chain, and its profits have doubled in five years. Workers aren’t sharing in the bounty. The most-heard slogan on the picket line was “One Job Should Be Enough!” The Book Cadillac is Marriott’s most profitable hotel in Detroit, but workers there were making $2 an hour below the downtown standard, said UNITE HERE staffer Charlesetta Wilson. Wilson spoke at DSA’s November 10 monthly meeting.

UNITE HERE Local 24 president Nia Winston addresses supporters. Photo by Dick Olson.

Busloads of UNITE HERE members came from Chicago and Toronto to swell the lines — and make more noise for guests to hear. The strike began at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

The 160 members ratified a new contract November 3 that will raise wages 20% over four years. Up till now tipped workers had seldom taken their vacations, because their vacation pay was solely the miserable tipped-worker hourly rate. Now, Wilson said, their vacation pay will be raised so that they can actually take time off.

A big demand was to deal with the effects of Marriott’s “Green Choice” program on housekeepers. Marriott encourages guests to forego room cleaning and towel changing, supposedly “for the environment.” But this allows the hotel to use fewer cleaners — and when cleaners do have to clean a room after a multi-day stay, it’s much more work than cleaning daily. Wilson said housekeepers are still assigned the same number of rooms to clean, no matter how many days the rooms have gone without. UNITE HERE is negotiating this question nationally and Book Cadillac workers will share in the result.

It wasn’t lost on DSA members how our signature demand — Medicare for All — would transform these workers’ lives. Wilson said that in their 2015 contract, other UNITE HERE members she represents had received no pay raise because all the money went to health insurance. Imagine being able to scratch health care off the list of things that keep you up at night!

About 30 DSAers showed up to each rally, the largest single support group, with our own signs. The Means of Production video crew gathered footage.
A national conference call October 23 allowed chapters to share news and tactics. From Denver, one DSAer wrote: “We’re organizing a 50–100 person strike solidarity picket here in Denver in coordination with UNITE HERE Local 23 staff. We will demonstrate outside of an unorganized, Marriott-owned hotel.”

National DSA produced this leaflet targeting Marriott board members, and in Chicago, Boston, New York, and Metro DC, chapters planned confrontations with Marriott big shots. Workers are still walking the line at Marriott properties in San Francisco, Maui and Oahu. Visit UNITE HERE’s online action center for more. [Update Dec. 3: Workers in Hawaii and San Francisco reached tentative agreements with Marriott. The new contracts will provide better wages and working conditions.]

For some DSAers it was their first time on a union picket line.

DANIELLE AUBERT — I joined the strike several times with my eight-year-old. It was the first time either of us had joined a picket line. The first time we arrived, we weren’t sure exactly what to do. We went up to one of the tables and told the person that we had come to support the strike. She handed my daughter a UNITE HERE noisemaker and pointed to their collection of signs, so we took one and joined the line.

There were about a dozen workers circling around in front of the hotel entrance, chanting things like “Don’t check in, check out!” and “Dirty beds and dirty sheets, take your business down the street” and “No contract, no peace!” At first I wasn’t sure if I should be chanting about contracts because I am not a part of UNITE HERE. But we were immediately incorporated into the line without question. We were offered doughnuts, drinks, snacks.

It took me some time to get a sense of what was going on — there were the workers on the line and milling around at each end of the block; there were valet workers who were not on strike, but who appeared to be friendly to the strikers; there were managers who stood guard outside the doors, ready to usher in guests, who pulled up every few minutes; there were random passers-by filming with their phones.

Joining the line prompted good conversations with my daughter, who has been dragged to various marches and protests in the past. The picket line felt very different from other marches — this was about a confrontation between workers and owners. It’s not hard for her to understand that workers should receive fair wages, and should not need to work two jobs.

We came to the first solidarity rally along with about 30 other DSA members, and that was exciting. The line was huge and extended fully from one end of the block to the other. Many politicians were there that day — Rashida Tlaib, Abdul El-Sayed, Garlin Gilchrist, to name a few.

I was really impressed by the fact that they were running the picket line 24/7. Over the summer, a few DSA chapters around the country got attention for Abolish ICE encampments. I found it overwhelming to imagine how much work was involved in keeping an encampment going every day and every night. The UNITE HERE line seemed really well organized — my understanding was that because workers have shifts that go around the clock, they were keeping the line going around the clock. People were “checking in” for shifts on the line just as they might have checked in for shifts at work.
Later in the strike I went on my own again. That day there were only 4–5 people walking around. A few people were, impressively, watching movies on their phones while marching. They had acquired a bass drum and a snare drum and were making a lot of noise.

Thinking about the union I belong to, I wondered whether we would have the capacity, or courage, to go out on strike if it came to it. It was inspiring to see the Westin workers take this step.

HANK KENNEDY — A woman behind me said she was from France and was a union member. She said, “I was booked to stay at this hotel and I saw this picket line so I thought they needed me out here.”

KYLE MINTON — What I really liked was the level of unspoken solidarity. Everybody was extremely welcoming. We were all chanting and screaming, nobody was really chatting, but we were all able to communicate appreciation to each other. Everybody was passing out ponchos — nobody asked — if they saw you standing there they would just give you a sign and you’d start marching.

I was surprised that people were crossing the picket line at all. Just trying to imagine myself, if I saw that level of animosity and tenacity, I’d check in somewhere else. I saw a lot of the protesters take great pride in letting people know that there was a lot of shame involved in crossing the picket line.
From what I know this was their first strike. I was impressed by the level of competency and everybody’s voices growing louder and more confident.
It was a great show of force that DSA turned that many people out. It was a great show of solidarity with labor and it made me realize you don’t have to be striking at your own job to stand in support of organized labor and get our name out there. Seeing how welcoming everybody was showed me you could go to any picket line, and they’d be welcoming.

MIKE ESPEJO — I went two or three times. I don’t come from a family of labor workers, so it was a new experience for me. It was eye-opening to see how labor came together in a united front. Before one of the rallies there was representation from a bunch of different unions that were there showing solidarity, and that was super-inspiring. And people said that was a regular thing.

Seeing how the marchers reacted to people breaking the picket line, yelling at the scabs, it was an opportunity to think about communications and how to get across a message in just a few seconds — it was a challenge. That’s where the signage and chants and slogans came in handy.

Just the energy of being out on the line together and feeling like you’re one solid group of people demanding what’s right was a cool experience. It was cool to be able to lend a helping hand.

The picket line on a typical day. Photo by Danielle Aubert.

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