Marriott workers strike Detroit's Westin Book Cadillac

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Strikers walk with picket signs near one of the check-in tables as workers from Unite Here Local 24 go on strike at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit Sunday.

Detroit — Citing relatively low and stagnant wages compared to workers at other area hotels, the members of Unite Here Local 24 started what they call a "24/7" strike at Detroit's Westin Book Cadillac hotel on Sunday.

The strike, which was authorized in September, started at 5 a.m., said Nia Winston, president of Local 24, the hospitality union that represents about 160 workers at the hotel that includes bartenders, servers, cashiers, bellmen, front desk workers and housekeepers, Winston said.

"Unfortunately, many of the workers who work for the Marriott corporation...have to work two to three jobs to survive," Winston said.

That's the argument  being made by 5,000 striking hotel workers at Marriott properties in five cities — San Francisco, Boston, San Jose, Oakland, and Detroit, said Unite Here spokeswoman Rachel Gumpert. 

"They've been at the table, but they sure have not been serious," Gumpert said of Marriott. "This is a last-resort effort. We've been in negotiations for months. After we authorized strike votes, we went back to the table in every city, including Detroit, and we make good-faith efforts to get movement, and the company was absolutely unwilling" to come to terms.

Hotel management could not immediately be reached, nor could a spokesperson for the Marriott corporation.

From right, Rikisha Brantley, 21, of Inkster, Terrence Parker, 30, of Warren, and Micah Stewart, 21, of Inkster make a little noise on the picket line.

But in a statement issued in September, after the strike vote was authorized, Marriott said that  "should the union and our employees choose to strike, our hotels will continue to operate and work to minimize any disruption and to provide the excellent service that our guest have come to expect."

Union leaders contend the Westin Book Cadillac workers haven't been properly rewarded for their loyalty and are underpaid compared to new hires at other hotels. 

"This hotel opened in 2008 and there was an economic recession back then, so workers accepted a contract with no wage increases" for two years, Winston said. "Through the tough times, we continued to make sure the hotel stayed afloat," accepting only "minimal" wage increases in the years since.

Winston argued that the workers at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center make an average of $2 more per hour.

"You can literally get a job as a new hire over there and make more money than someone who's been here for 10 years, which is insane to me," Winston said. 

"This is not a day-shift picket line," Winston said, adding that workers would be taking turns to have a presence at the hotel's entrances "24/7."

If there were no strike starting at 5 a.m., Yolanda Murray, 43, would have started her shift at 6 a.m., "making sure everybody has clean and sanitized dishes." 

"The proposal they gave us was little, very little," Murray said. "It was embarrassing."

Murray said that in her eight years working at the hotel, her wages have only increased by $2.50 an hour. 

Citing the higher wages allegedly paid to Marriott workers just blocks away at the Renaissance Center property, Murray asked, "why should it take us half-a-decade to make what they're making? Give us what we want and we'll come back."

Union officials said the timeline on the Marriott proposal for wage increased would take years to bring Book Cadillac workers in line with others locally. 

"One job should be enough," Murray said. "I can't afford to put either one of my kids on my healthcare. I can't afford it. My deductible, for just myself, is $50/week."