Photos by Keeley Smith.
On an overcast morning last week, about 20 men and women marched in circles beneath the Renaissance hotel’s awning.
They chanted as they went, waving “UNITE HERE! Local 11” signs in the stagnant, humid air.
“It’s about how they treat us—they force us to take extra hours,” said Alicia, a Renaissance hotel worker who requested her last name not be used.
“They work off of fear,” said another protester, Jeff, whose husband has worked at the Renaissance for several years. “Workers are terrified to speak. They’re forced to do their jobs and they threaten to take away their green cards if they speak to the union.”
A growing group of hotel workers and hotel worker allies have been gathering weekly in front of the Renaissance and Westin hotels on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Long Beach, switching between the two hotels every other week. Last Friday, picketers protested in front of the Renaissance from 7:00AM to 9:00AM.
They claim the managers at the Renaissance and Westin hotels have not allowed them to take their legally obligated 10 minute breaks, have forced them to work overtime, have not honored seniority in choosing work shifts and forced housekeepers to clean bathrooms on their “hands and knees” when they couldn’t provide the proper hand-held tools (like mops) and more.
Workers at the Marriott-run Renaissance have recently filed charges against the Marriott for violating the NLRA, which was created in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers.
“Among other things, we are fighting, in general against the Marriott for federal rights protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA),” said Jose Diaz, a Renaissance housekeeping employee.
“Specific conditions vary by hotel,” said Alicia Quiros, an organizer with Unite Here Local 11. “The workers are desperate to have a sense of justice.”
When writing this article, the Renaissance declined requests to comment. The Westin was unavailable for comment, despite numerous attempts by the Post to reach a spokesperson.
Diaz has worked for the Renaissance for 11 years and says his managers prefer to yell when assigning work rather than “asking nicely.” According to Diaz, favoritism also runs rampant, and the workload required of them is impossible to finish without a few hours of overtime every day.
Jeannine Pearce, the director of Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, said the protesting began last January and February. Community leaders accompanied hotel workers to speak with the management of the Westin and Renaissance hotels, as many were afraid to approach the management for fear of losing their jobs.
Females housekeepers have felt disrespected and unprotected around male hotel guests, according to Pearce.
“Housekeeping is different than any other industry,” Pearce said. “You can knock on the door, and you don’t know what’s behind it.” When it comes to dangers involving sexual assault, workers have been told it is up to them to “protect themselves,” according to Pearce.
Beyond that, proper tools have been difficult to find for housekeepers expected to meet a daily room-keeping quota.
“One worker [at the Renaissance] was not handed a Swiffer,” Pearce said. “She was told to get on her knees and do it.” At the Westin, Pearce said it was not an issue of being provided tools, but of not being provided the right ones. She said one woman at the Renaissance brings her own vacuum to work every day to do her job.
Pearce said workers are looking at the examples the Hyatt and Hotel Maya have set regarding their relationships with hotel staff. The management’s recognition of unions and willingness to negotiate higher salaries and regular breaks makes them stand out. Workers there have better working conditions, according to Pearce.
Francisco Estín has worked at the Westin as a banquet server for over 25 years, and alleges his managers have not respected his seniority when assigning work shifts, in addition to forcing workers to complete a significant portion of their jobs off the clock.
“I feel this is a big issue because it affects us on a daily basis–we’re not able to play that role as a family.” He said harassment from the management is such an issue that many housekeepers “leave work in tears.”
Another worker who requested her last name remain off the record, Ruth, said a floating manager has witnessed her banquet serving workload and confirmed it was more than should be required of her. She described one instance in which she served a professional soccer team’s banquet meal entirely alone–including the prep work, the serving, and the cleanup.
“I had to take the trash out, too,” she said. “We’re just overworked for our classification.”
More information will emerge as the case against the Marriott proceeds. For the time being, the workers hope to strengthen and grow their numbers in the weekly downtown protests.
“It’s like a third world country,” said Pearce. “Workers in Long Beach should not be treated this way.”