Sept. 15 — All 75 union workers walked off the job Sept. 5 at the luxury, 150-room Battery Wharf Hotel located on Boston Harbor. Migrants make up a majority of the workers, who are represented by UNITE HERE Local 26.
Westmont Hospitality Group, the hotel owners, have refused to negotiate since March 2018. The workers are fed up with the threats of wage and benefit cuts and the racism, sexism, and lack of dignity and respect for workers on the job.
The owners are trying to take away job security, affordable family health care and yearly wage increases. They propose eliminating retirement and pension contributions, doing away with the right to a fair schedule and freezing wages for five years. They threaten to increase the workload for housekeepers and do away with workers’ protections regarding subcontracting should the hotel be sold.
Particularly insulting to the striking workers is Battery Wharf’s refusal to agree to language fighting discrimination and offering job security for im/migrants. This language has been in citywide hotel contracts for years.
The hotel industry has a long history of discrimination in hiring African Americans.
Battery Wharf owners stopped participating in a citywide diversity task force after hotels in the Boston area had to agree to work on it and on a hotel diversity committee. In 2006, UNITE HERE Local 26 fought for language in the contract which states that employers “shall take affirmative steps to further diversify the workforce to properly reflect the Boston area, including African-American workers.”
Striking Battery Wharf hotel workers are united and strong. They are inspired by the example of their victorious union comrades at Marriott hotels last year who struck seven hotels in Boston for 46 days led by UNITE HERE Local 26.
Many other Boston hotels were forced to match the benefits won as a result of this victory at Marriott, which include: significant increases of wages and hotels’ contribution to pensions; paid parental leave; a guarantee for immigrants who lose their protected status that their job will be waiting for them if they regain the right to work within five years; enhanced accommodations for pregnant workers; more stable schedules; an alert system for housekeepers in case of a sexual assault; and a registry of guests accused of sexual misconduct at the hotel.
Workers World spoke with Ed Childs, a retired chief shop steward for UNITE HERE Local 26 and leader of the historic 2016 strike of Harvard University dining hall workers, which was a springboard for the subsequent hotel strikes. Childs said, “The company is trying to bust the union out of this place. They have eliminated half the old contract, never mind putting in place what the Marriott contract has. They forced the workers to go on strike. In this period the atmosphere of the ruling class is ripe for union busting and the Battery Wharf workers are courageously fighting back.”
Unions and community groups have joined the workers’ picket line, including Ironworkers Local 7; Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3650; National Grid workers, Service Employees union (SEIU) 32BJ; Boston Teachers Union, UAW; Harvard and Tufts University union; International Workers’ Solidarity Network; and student activists. Teamsters Local 25 pledged to honor the picket line.
On Sept. 7, anti-fascist protesters, who were confronting the reactionary “Straight Pride” parade in downtown Boston, marched to the hotel 50 strong and joined the cheering strikers. Genevieve Lechat, an AFSCME member and organizer of this contingent, said, “Anti-fascist organizers were delighted to show solidarity with the strikers and immediately agreed to open the program they were planning to the call to march to the line after the rally. A huge, spirited group of Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+ youth and union members joined the line and stayed with the hotel workers into the evening.
“Many have also returned to the line regularly, especially members of [email protected] Work, the LGBTQ+ caucus of the AFL-CIO, who have organized subsequent mobilizations to the picket line and meal deliveries to the strikers. Everyone recognizes the intention to take rights away from working-class people is the same for fascists, cops and bosses.”