About 100 hotel workers formed a picket line outside the Sheraton Grand Hotel in downtown Sacramento on Wednesday, protesting wages they said had not kept up with inflation.
The protest offered a window into the local tourism industry, back on its feet after the devastation of COVID-19 but unable to shake its reputation for producing many dead-end, lower-paying jobs.
Even with union representation, housekeepers and other service workers walking around the hotel earned about $16.50 an hour, just $1.50 more than the state minimum wage. The workers have been without a contract since their labor agreement expired on May 31.
“It’s very hard to survive,” said Marisol Gomez, 50, who has worked at the Sheraton for more than 21 years since it opened in April 2001.
The rest of her family is in Mexico, but she hasn’t been there for three years.
“I can’t go back to Mexico to visit all my relatives,” she said, “because I have to pay my bills and my rent.”
Gomez, who earns $16.50 an hour cooking meals in the hotel employee cafeteria, said she lives with a roommate to save money. But even splitting the rent for the one-bedroom apartment near Natomas still means $1,000 a month.
Why the Sheraton?
The Sheraton is one of several unionized hotels in Sacramento whose labor contracts have expired. But union organizers say they targeted the Sheraton because it is Sacramento’s largest union hotel and the city’s second-largest lodging facility with 503 rooms.
Martia Rodriguez, the hotel’s human relations director, said officials were negotiating in good faith to reach a contractual agreement with the union. She declined to go into details.
The union said management had offered cleaners and other service workers a 75-cent-a-year raise under a two-year contract.
Instead, officials from the Sacramento chapter of the hospitality industry union, United Here, are demanding wage increases that would pay workers $20 an hour at the end of a two-year contract, a report said. said Aamir Dean, president of Unite Here’s Sacramento Local 49.
“The main thing is that we need something right away and we need something over 75 cents,” he said. “And the hotel management doesn’t come back with something like that.”
Dean said the problem is that the five-year contract that expired on May 31 ended with less than robust salaries.
Times have changed, but wages have not.
He said the contract was negotiated before the state established a $15-an-hour minimum wage, before the pandemic weighed on the working class, and before the recent inflationary spiral.
Dean said negotiations had not taken place for several months because the hotel would not move beyond its position that salary increases should be limited to 75 cents per year.
As protesters chanted, “We want more; we want it now,” late Wednesday afternoon, the hotel seemed to be operating normally. Guests checked in at the front desk, and on the second floor, the University of the Pacific hosted a reception for law students who had just taken the bar exam at the convention center.
The Sheraton Grand is managed by Marriott International, which employs the accommodation establishment’s 120 workers. The owner of the hotel is the CIM group in Los Angeles.
Dean said that before the pandemic, the hotel had 170 employees, but like other lodging establishments, it cannot find workers and now has only 120.
The union is involved in separate negotiations with the other hotels: the Citizen Hotel, the Holiday Inn Downtown Arena and the Hilton Arden West. The union is also negotiating its first contract with The Hyatt Centric Downtown, which opened in October 2021.
What is the quality of business post-pandemic?
The management company of the Sheraton Grand is doing well overall.
Marriott International has largely recovered from COVID-19. It reported a profit of $377 million in the first quarter ending March 31, a 3,000% increase from the same quarter in 2021.
However, the company does not detail financial information for each of the 8,000 hotels it manages.
The Sheraton Grand is heavily dependent on business from the convention center, one block away. a business that started to come back in late 2021 and into 2022, but not at full throttle.
Although this is the first public protest, Dean said employees have been holding protests and rallies inside the hotel for a year, including marches to management offices.
Despite the current tensions between the hotel and the union, the hotel was able to assert its union status.
hotel reservation policy
Organizations like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, for example, house board members at the Sheraton because it has a union, instead of the city’s largest hotel, The Hyatt Regency, which doesn’t is not unionized.
Democratic political groups also tended to hold events at the Sheraton while Republican groups went to the Hyatt-Regency,
Wednesday’s pickets ranged from employees in their 20s to elderly people who had worked at the hotel since it opened.
Travis Rogers, 26, who works as a night housekeeper was one of the youngest on the picket line.
He said inflation not only eroded his $16.50 an hour salary, but caused hotel guests to stop tipping.
“It was difficult,” he said.
This story was originally published July 28, 2022 11:41 a.m.