On October 3, Unite Here Local 26 — a hospitality workers’ union that represents workers in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Boston and Rhode Island — launched the first hotel strike in the city’s history.
More than 1,500 workers at Marriott-owned hotels in Boston joined nearly 8,000 others across the country in such faraway cities as San Diego, Detroit, San Jose and Oakland to ask for better wages and benefits from one of the world’s largest and most profitable hotel chains.
NAR is set to hold its annual conference, the Realtors Conference & Expo, in Boston on Nov. 2-5 and the work stoppage will affect five of the 28 hotels the trade group will use for event: the Sheraton Boston Hotel, Westin Copley Place Boston, Westin Boston Waterfront, Aloft Boston Seaport and Element Boston Seaport.
NAR, which has 1.3 million members, confirmed to Inman that striking workers have called NAR members and staff to urge them to have the trade group move its event to venues not operated by Marriott.
“NAR is monitoring the situation and is hopeful that both parties will come to an agreement as soon as possible. No matter the outcome, the 2018 Realtors Conference & Expo will move forward as planned with minimal impact on Realtors or the overall experience of conference attendees and partners,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall in an emailed statement.
On Friday, NAR sent an email to Realtors that had registered for the conference, also known as “NAR Annual,” to let them know about the strike and that the trade group had created an online FAQ to answer questions about it.
In the FAQ, NAR says it didn’t move the event to another city for logistical reasons.
“The Realtors Conference & Expo requires nearly 1 million square feet of combined hotel and convention center space and over 10,000 guest rooms. Only a handful of U.S. cities can accommodate the conference,” the trade group said.
“Late fall is a very busy time for association meetings of similar size, so NAR must confirm this meeting 10-15 years in advance in order to get date availability. It is simply not possible to move a conference of more than 20,000 people and nearly 1,000 meetings on one month’s notice.”
NAR also said it could not replace the five hotels affected by the work stoppage because other hotels did not have the required meeting space or were not close to the two convention centers where the conference is being held.
For members not comfortable crossing a picket line who have a NAR committee meeting taking place in a strike hotel, the trade group is allowing members to request an excused absence. However, committee members must make the request by Friday, Oct. 26.
“Please alert your NAR staff executive that you need an excused absence, and inform your local and/or state association that you will not be able to attend the Governance Meetings in Boston. Excused absences will not be accepted on site,” the trade group said.
NAR does not advise members to switch their hotel reservations, but for those considering doing so, the trade group suggested contacting its official third-party vendor aRes at 877-300-6147.
“We do not expect any meaningful disruption to the overall conference experience,” NAR said in the FAQ.
“Between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., you may observe occasional picket lines on public space only in front of hotels affected by the strike. You can expect these demonstrations to be loud, but well controlled by law enforcement and hotel security. Affected hotels may have reduced hours or menus in food and beverage outlets.”
How did hotel workers access Realtors’ contact information?
NAR said hotel workers contacted NAR members and staff “with publicly available information” but did not respond to a question asking whether hotel workers had also accessed NAR members’ contact information through the affected hotels.
NAR declined to comment on how many of its members hotel workers had contacted, whether NAR members that are not attending the conference were also contacted, how the workers got access to NAR members’ contact information, whether NAR is taking any steps to hold anyone accountable for accessing members’ contact information or whether NAR has contacted the affected hotels or Local 26.
In an emailed statement, a Marriott spokesperson told Inman:
To put the situation in perspective for you, Marriott International has about 70 managed and franchised hotels in the Boston metro area. Currently, seven Marriott operated hotels in Boston are on strike.
We’ve been made aware of instances where group customers have been contacted by individuals supporting the strike. Marriott has not provided this information to any such individuals. Marriott takes the privacy of guest information very seriously and will continue to ensure that all steps are taken to protect it.
We are disappointed that the union has resorted to these tactics. Our employees certainly have the right to strike and to express their views on the negotiations, but we hoped that their union would respect our guests regardless of their dispute with Marriott.
We continue to believe that the best place to resolve these issues is at the bargaining table and remain committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a fair contract for all parties.
We want to express our gratitude to our guests for their patience and understanding.
The company declined to comment on how the workers were able to obtain contact information for NAR members and whether Marriott has any rules prohibiting workers from accessing guest contact information for the purpose of advocacy.
Local 26 did not respond to requests for comment via email and voicemail by publication time.
In its strike declaration, Local 26 asked the public not to cross picket lines by not patronizing any Marriott hotels while workers are on strike. Using the slogan “One Job Should Be Enough,” the union said its workers wanted to be able to afford to live in Boston, provide for their families, retire with dignity, work in safe conditions and have a say in how new technologies are introduced to the hospitality industry.
“I am striking because I have to work three jobs to try and cover all my family’s expenses,” said Brooke Melanson, a bartender at the Westin Boston Waterfront, in a statement.
“Just like any parent, I want time with my children to see them grow up. We hear all the time how well Marriott is doing. We want Marriott to recognize our contribution to their success.”