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With no contract, laid-off workers escalate pressure campaign against Marriott

More than 100 workers unionized last year, but they say their employer hasn’t negotiated in good faith

Above: Workers hold a fast in front of the Marriott Hotel at Harbor East, demanding that management negotiate a long-delayed labor contract. (Ian Round)

A handful of laid-off workers today camped outside the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott Hotel for a one-day fast to protest against the continued lack of a collective bargaining agreement.

More than 100 employees voted to unionize in May 2019 under Unite Here Local 7, said staff director Tracy Lingo.

After a year of delays and futile talks, there’s still no contract.

“We just felt like we needed to move to another level of seriousness,” Lingo said of the decision to fast outside the 32-floor-high luxury hotel in upscale Harbor East.

Saying they “just want a fair agreement” guaranteeing health insurance, safe working conditions and job security, Lingo said the workers would be fired if they behaved the way Marriott management has during the negotiations.

“They show up late, they’re not prepared, they don’t have their proposals, they change their proposals,” Lingo told The Brew. “They can’t even do the minimum.”

A manager in the hotel said he was not authorized to talk about the protest or negotiations. He forwarded The Brew’s request for comment to another office, which did not respond.

The Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel was excused from paying $3,374,525 in property taxes last year.

The Marriott Waterfront Hotel, at 700 Aliceanna Street, was given tax breaks that will lower its property taxes by an estimated $61.5 million over 25 years. (Mark Reutter)

Big Tax Breaks

Originally built by bakery mogul John Paterakis, who was handed millions of dollars of tax subsidies, the hotel is now majority owned by the UBS Trumbull Property Fund, a branch of the Swiss bank, with 49% still held by the Paterakis family, according to Lingo.

Because of the bank’s involvement in the hotel, union members handed out protest leaflets today outside of the UBS Financial Services office on Pratt Street.

Noting that hotel operator Marriott has pledged in a corporate statement that “we stand against racism” and “we believe in equality, justice and putting people first,” Lingo said, “What they can do is give these people some security.”

City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, whose workers’ rights bills passed final readings at last night’s Council meeting, stopped by to thank the workers and Unite Here Local 7 for their support.

“It should not have been a tough bill to pass, but it was,” he said of his right-to-recall bill, which would require hotels to bring back employees in order of seniority once they resume hiring.

Councilmen Bill Henry and Zeke Cohen also made appearances.

Laid-off Marriott employees Mohammed Saif, William Murray and Jairelis Vásquez at today's protest fast. (Ian Round)

Laid-off Marriott employees Mohammed Saif, William Murray and Jairelis Vásquez at today’s protest. (Ian Round)

“Very hard to start new”

Mohammed Saif was a server at Apropoe’s, the restaurant inside the hotel, for 15 years when he was laid off due to Covid-19. He said he’s been borrowing money from family, as his expenses didn’t go away when his job did.

Saif’s last meal before today’s fast consisted of rice, fish and vegetables. He said his age and experience make it  difficult to find a new job.

“It’s very hard for me to start new,” he said. “I’m worried about future. I’m worried about my health insurance.”

Banquet server William Murray’s 20-year anniversary at the Marriott was coming up in February.

He was also laid off, but he’s been able to work a few shifts, including when the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs came to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

But taking those shifts wasn’t an easy calculation because he can’t stay on unemployment above a certain income. “People don’t know whether to accept a shift or not,” he pointed out.

He said what has saved him is a six-month forbearance on his mortgage.

“I’d maybe have been in a little bit of trouble” if he had to pay his mortgage every month, he said. That’s when the lack of job security “starts to get a little scary.”

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