Marriott Marquis and Marriott Downtown Workers Seize a Second Chance To Join HTC

The Marriott Marquis, the oldest and largest non-union hotel in New York City, is now an HTC shop!

Hotel Voice, Summer 2021

Marriott has waged a very sophisticated and expensive avoidance strategy at its two non-union hotels in New York City: the New York Marriott Marquis, its flagship hotel in Times Square, and the Marriott Downtown, located on Albany and West Streets in lower Manhattan. The cornerstone of Marriott’s union avoidance strategy was doing a masterful job tricking the workers into believing that they had the same rights and job protections that HTC members have under our contract.

While this strategy may have worked for decades, workers at the Marriott Marquis and Marriott Downtown took a closer look at management’s claims over the last few years. It wasn’t easy to overcome the workers’ belief that the Company could be trusted to take care of them “like a family.” The Union’s organizers provided decades worth of evidence to the workers, painstakingly reviewed contracts, side agreements, pension plan documents, and even, took workers on tours of the Union’s health centers. Even then, many workers refused to believe basic facts about our benefits and contracts because they had been exposed to constant anti-union brainwashing by their managers and supervisors for years.

The COVID-19 crisis and the impact it had on the hotel industry tested Marriott’s guarantees and promises to its employees. The stark contrast between the security enjoyed by HTC members over the last 16 months and non-union Marriott workers opened many eyes – to say the least.

Long before the pandemic, workers met in secret with Union organizers to build support for the Union at each hotel. Once we achieved a strong majority, first at the Marriott Downtown and later at the Marquis, the Union won representation. Several months later, on March 31st, the workers at the Marriott Downtown won their first Union contract, followed by the Marquis on May 13th.

At the ratification meetings for their first contracts this spring, the workers could finally see in black and white in their Union contracts who was telling the truth about the Union all these years.

From left to right: Rank and File Organizer Lindita Bastriaga, Marriott Marquis Public Space Attendant Ana Roman, Marriott Marquis Housekeeper Irvinia Esprit, HTC Director of Organizing Julia Rybak, and Marriott Marquis Housekeeper Marie Jeanty.

The Truth about our Union's Pension Plan

Even up until recently, some Marriott workers believed that the Union wasn’t telling the truth about its pension plan.

“So many of my coworkers told me ‘it’s too good to be true’ when I explained the Union’s pension plan,” said Felix Ferreira, a Banquet Houseman at the Marriott Downtown. “Well, now they see it with their own eyes.”

Both hotels are participating in the Industry Pension Plan under their new contracts, with workers having the choice of joining the pension plan or staying in Marriott’s 401(k) plan.

The Truth about Healthcare

Rumors abounded at both properties that if they joined the Union, they could not continue to use Marriott’s health benefits. Even after we offered to go through every Union contract negotiated since 1994 (when we first negotiated the right for workers at newly organized hotels to have the choice to stay with their healthcare or go into the Union’s plan), some Marriott workers remained dubious.

Sure enough, both contracts include a choice in benefits, allowing the workers to choose to participate in the Industry-Wide Health Fund or stay with Marriott’s plan.

Marriott: "You Already Get Paid Union Wages"

While the company did pay close to the hourly wages in our Union’s contract (and even a few pennies more at the Marquis), they shortchanged the employees Union wage items like time and a quarter pay, holiday-in-lieu, and sixth and seventh day overtime.

In their new contracts, the Marquis and Downtown workers will get significant hourly wage increases plus better overtime pay, premium pay for part-time work, and severance pay for those who are laid off.

“All these years, I thought we made the same as Union workers, but boy was I wrong. We cheated ourselves out of thousands of dollars by not going union years ago,” said Felicia Opuku, a Room Attendant at the Marriott Marquis.

Marriott: "You Could Lose Things"

For years, workers in these hotels were also told that if they organized with the Union, they could lose wages, benefits, or other privileges on the job. We assured them that they wouldn’t. Now, they can read “Article 3, No Loss” in their legally binding contracts, which guarantees that if any single term or condition of their employment is better than what is required in the contract, they keep it.

The Value of Real, Union Job Security

Workers at the Marriott Marquis and Downtown were told that they had job security without a Union contract because the Company had a policy named the “Guarantee of Fair Treatment.” For a long time, the workers relied entirely on management’s promises that their jobs would be re-liable and safe. Then, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marriott fired many workers at the Marquis and at other Marriott hotels across the country — and the workers realized these promises were empty.

By winning our Industry-Wide Agreement (“IWA”) at both the Marquis and the Downtown, the workers now have dozens and dozens of new rights and vital job security protections including: protection against unfair discipline, protection against subcontracting, unlimited recall rights, and job security in the case the hotel is sold.

Lead Organizer of the Marriott Downtown Samantha Klein and Houseman Raul Kelly meet about the Union last March, before the pandemic.

"Today, I'm older and wiser"

Years later, workers now know that their naive trust in Marriott was a grave mistake.

“I refused to sign a card when the Union came to the hotel the first time because I was too afraid to risk the best job I ever had,” said Marriott Downtown Houseman Antonio Miliano. “Today, I’m older and wiser and I can see that we made a big mistake."

Nothing Gives Workers the Protection of a Legally Binding Contract

The workers unanimously ratified their new contracts.

“We learned the hard way that management’s promises are just that: empty promises. Without a legally binding union contract, management is essentially free to break their promises and to change the rules, whenever and however they like,” said Michael Williams, a Houseman at the Marriott Marquis. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and relief that now I have the same protections as all the other HTC members in the city!"

These historic victories benefit you too

While winning an HTC-contract is life changing for the workers at the Marriott Marquis and the Marriott Downtown, that is not the only benefit of these victories. These two large hotels also increase our Union’s density (the percentage of union hotels in New York City).

It is not a coincidence that our members in New York City have the highest wages and strongest contracts in the world for hotel workers. It is because our Union has put tremendous effort into organizing the non-union hotel industry and increasing our density. The higher our density, the more bargaining power and leverage our Union has during contract negotiations. Organizing more non-union hotels over the next five years will be critical for when we sit down to renegotiate the IWA for over 25,000 members in 2026.