Edna Garcia saved for two years to afford her Hawaiian holiday, an 18-day splurge with two cousins. They all needed to recharge. There had been caregiving, and the loss of their mothers, and one cousin’s bout with advanced breast cancer.
“This was supposed to be a very, very special trip for the three of us,” Garcia, of San Antonio, Texas, said.
They booked two partial-view rooms at Sheraton Princess Kaiulani in Honolulu, paying $9,030 including resort fees and parking. They flew first class from Texas to Oahu.
“We really enjoyed it for the first few days,” said Garcia, 58. Then, on Oct. 8, the 11th day of the trip, “I woke up extremely early because I heard yelling and shouting. I didn’t understand what was going on.”
It turned out to be the housekeepers, cooks, servers, dishwashers, bartenders, doormen, bellmen and concierges walking off the job as they became part of a nationwide strike by 7,700 workers at 23 hotels operated by Marriott International.
A notice slipped under her door said that the dining rooms, room service and bars were closed, and that housekeeping would be by request only. It asked guests to deposit their trash, recycling and dirty towels in hampers by the elevators, and to collect their clean towels, cups, coffee, bottled water and toiletries in the lobby.
“It was all in boxes and bins on tables in the lobby, and everybody had to make a pit stop there on their way back from their activities to pick up what they needed,” Garcia said.
There were moments of, “There’s no more towels,” so she stashed extra washcloths and bath towels in her room.
On one of the days she called for her room to be cleaned, she returned to find gloves and cleaning solution sitting on the counter. “I wasn’t sure if it had been cleaned, or if they got called away in the middle of it,” she said.
Yet for Garcia, one of the main annoyances was the proximity of the picket line, which would start up at 7 in the morning, with bullhorns and microphones. To get to their rental car they had to cross the picket line, where workers would yell, “Don’t check in. You need to check out.”
Garcia said, “One time my cousin rolled down the window and said, ‘Can we go to your house then?’”
When a labor dispute breaks out, guests like Garcia and her family can feel caught between the two sides, turning a vacation or work trip into a battle they never chose. Here’s what you need to know.
WHAT HOTELS ARE AFFECTED?
The walkout began in early October and quickly spread to 23 Marriott-operated hotels in Boston; Detroit; San Francisco; San Diego; San Jose and Oakland, California; Honolulu; and Lahaina, Maui.
Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel chain with management or franchise agreements with about 6,700 hotels under 30 brands in 130 countries and territories. Marriott International had net profits in 2017 of $1.37 billion.
The strike encompasses a range of Marriott brands, including Marriott, Sheraton, Aloft, Element, Ritz-Carlton, W, Palace, Courtyard, St. Regis, Westin and Royal Hawaiian.
They are part of a group of 40 where collective-bargaining agreements expire this year, said Connie Kim, a spokeswoman for Marriott International.
Negotiations at the hotels involved in the walkout are continuing, and there are no plans to hold strike authorization votes at the 17 other properties before year-end, said Rachel Gumpert, a spokeswoman for UNITE HERE, the union that represents the striking workers. The union has a full list of the hotels involved on its strike website.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The workers want wages that keep up with the cost of living in the cities where the strikes are being held, Gumpert said.
Pay varies by city, as do the proposed settlements, but a housekeeper at Garcia’s hotel, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, makes about $22 an hour, Gumpert said. If the housekeeper worked 40-hours per week for the year, the $45,760 total is only $4,900 above the “very low income” limit set by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department for Honolulu County, a measure that considers housing costs. Although some people tip housekeepers, most do not, Gumpert said.
The union is also concerned with job loss because of some types of automation, such as replacing front desk workers with iPads, or contracting out food prep like chopping and dicing.
It also opposes the current Marriott “Make A Green Choice” program, which offers loyalty reward points for guests who forego daily housekeeping. The union does not want to end the program, but said that it throws off the schedule that housekeepers have to do heavy cleaning. When multiple guests checkout, the 30 minutes that a housekeeper might get to prepare a standard room is not enough to safely deal with the backlog, Gumpert said. The union wants Marriott to allow more time to clean rooms that are not serviced daily.
Kim declined to comment on specifics, but said in a statement, “Marriott is a competitive employer that pays significantly above the minimum wage in most markets and provides generous benefits. For years Marriott has invested in the company’s workforce through benefits and training,” particularly for hourly workers.
A single hotel is on strike in Chicago in an unrelated dispute over health insurance coverage. That walkout hit 26 hotels in that city in September, but has settled at all but the Cambria Hotel Chicago Magnificent Mile, part of the Choice Hotels International chain.
I’M BOOKED AT ONE OF THE HOTELS, WHAT WILL I FIND?
All of the hotels being picketed are open, and while services may be curtailed, Kim emphasized that rooms are cleaned between guests.
She would not say if managers or replacement workers are keeping the hotels running. Guests might want to call their hotel directly before arriving, as things are in flux. For instance, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, where Garcia stayed, recently started offering breakfast in the dining room, and limited bar service by the pool.
WHAT IF I WANT TO CANCEL?
“Whatever that hotel’s cancellation policy is, it still stands,” Kim said. Cancellation policies vary by hotel and may depend on time of year, but could require as much as 72 hours’ notification for a full refund. Kim said that she had not heard of there being a lot of cancellations, but did not offer numbers and said her information was only “anecdotal.” Photos on Twitter have shown the New York Yankees, the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Dodgers crossing the picket line while staying at the Ritz-Carlton Boston.
Gumpert, however, said that “dozens of groups” have canceled or relocated events from hotels involved in the strike, including CityLab 2018, a recent global summit in Detroit, and ComNet 2018, a conference that had been planned at the San Francisco Westin St. Francis, and switched venues earlier this month at a reported cost of more than $300,000.
IF WORKERS ARE ON STRIKE, WILL MY HOTEL LET ME KNOW BEFORE I CHECK IN?
In a word, no.
Kim said that guests are not being notified in advance of their check-in because the hotels are “operating and functional,” and that complaints are being handled by customer service on a case-by-case basis.
Although people have complained on social media about being offered only incidental refunds, like resort fees, Garcia and her cousins met with the hotel manager and negotiated a reimbursement of $2,230, roughly equivalent to getting one room for free during the strike. “Because he came to the table and gave us a little something back we were happy with the results, and were happy with the vacation,” Garcia said. Otherwise, “I’d be telling you it was totally ruined.”