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Leadership conference could relocate over Book Cadillac hotel strike

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
The Westin Book Cadillac hotel could lose an elite conference of global leaders gathering here in two weeks if it doesn't resolve an ongoing strike of its service workers, conference organizers said Monday.

Detroit — The Westin Book Cadillac hotel could losean elite conference of global leaders gathering here in two weeks if it doesn't resolve an ongoing strike of its service workers, conference organizers said Monday. 

CityLab 2018 is slated for the downtown Detroit hotel Oct. 28-30. The conference bills itself as "the preeminent global cities summit organized ... to address the most urgent urban issues of our time,"  according to the conference website.

The Book Cadillac's owner, the international Marriott hotel chain, is posing a real-time urban policy issue: Its service workers are on strike for higher wages and job security. 

"If the strike is not resolved we will relocate the event,"  CityLab organizers said in a written statement Monday. The conference is organized by the think tank the Aspen Institute, The Atlantic magazine and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

"We are monitoring the situation closely, and have contingency plans in place should the strike at the Westin Book Cadillac continue," the statement said. The conference would stay in Detroit but organizers would not provide more detail.

Marriott officials did not respond to requests for comment Monday. 

Expected CityLab attendees are General Motors Co. chairman and CEO Mary Barra; billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is one of about 30 U.S. mayors invited.

Among the scheduled speakers are Estonian President Kersti KaljulaidFord Foundation CEO Darren Walker; Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert; and film production designer Hannah Beachler, whose credits include "Black Panther"' and "Moonlight."

Since Oct. 7, 160 Book Cadillac bartenders, servers, cashiers, bellmen, front-desk workers and housekeepers have been on strike. The workers are represented by the union Unite Here. The union members are part of 8,000 workers who have walked off the job at 23 Marriott hotels in eight locations, including Boston, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, Maui and Oahu, according to the labor union. Unite Here represents more than 20,000 Marriott workers in the United States and Canada.

Union officials argue the workers cannot survive on their pay at the Detroit property, claiming staff at the nearby Renaissance Center Marriott earn an average of $2 more per hour. At the Book Cadillac, a bellhop is paid $8.50 an hour and a cashier earns $14.50 an hour. Those are below the hourly wages at the three Detroit casinos and the RenCen Marriott, union spokeswoman Rachel Gumpert said. 

The union and Marriott went back to the negotiating table last week but the two sides "are quite far apart" Gumpert said. 

Marriott is the largest  hotel company in the world. The company earned $22.9 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and has a net worth of $46.8 billion dollars.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN