‘It’s at a time when we need it the most’: With Marathon back, hotels look forward to a busy weekend, but challenges remain

At the Revere Hotel Boston Common, excitement for the Boston Marathon was building all week. Runners were checking in. Employees decorated the lobby in yellow and blue. The Rebel’s Guild restaurant kitchen was planning a Sunday night pasta dinner.

It wasn’t quite like Marathon weekends of the past — those April days, before the pandemic, that kicked off Boston’s busy spring and summer tourism seasons. But the hotel was nearing full occupancy for the weekend, said general manager Mark Fischer, a welcome sign that the bump in leisure travel seen over the summer had not yet subsided.

“I can feel the buzz in my hotel lobby of runners who have started to head into the city, as well as friends and family coming to cheer them on,” he said. “We just have to keep the momentum going.”

Runner Kelly O’Rourke (center) of Minneapolis, wore his Boston Marathon jacket while shopping with his wife, Tina (right), at Marathon Sports on Boylston Street in Boston on Thursday.
Runner Kelly O’Rourke (center) of Minneapolis, wore his Boston Marathon jacket while shopping with his wife, Tina (right), at Marathon Sports on Boylston Street in Boston on Thursday.CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF

Marathon weekend has always been a busy one for local hotels. Throw in a slew of other events — Red Sox playoff games, pandemic-postponed weddings that are finally happening, people just looking for a change of scene — and occupancy is up, at least for now, Fischer said.

Though hard data is not yet available for the fall, the Boston hotel market has been one of the slowest to recover in the country, according to data from Pinnacle Advisory Group, a Boston-based hospitality consultant.

Year-to-date revenue is down about 70 percent from 2019 levels. Business travel has yet to rebound, meaning hotels are relying on leisure travelers. Still, September was stronger than analysts expected, and October could follow suit — thanks to athletic events, university parent weekends, and warm weather extending vacation seasons.

”It’s a shot in the arm for the market, and it’s at a time when we need it the most,” said Sebastian Colella, vice president at Pinnacle Advisory Group.

Blue and yellow balloons decorated the lobby at the Revere Hotel Boston Common.
Blue and yellow balloons decorated the lobby at the Revere Hotel Boston Common.CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF

Events like the Marathon and a revived fall sports scene have given hotels the guests they dearly needed to help make up for lost business travel, said Chris Allen, general manager of Boston Marriott Newton on Commonwealth Avenue, a mile and a half from Heartbreak Hill.

This weekend they are just about full, he said.

“Our weekends, Fridays and Saturdays, have been the bread and butter this fall, and even throughout the summer,” he said. “When [the Delta variant] started to surge in July-ish, that didn’t deem to put the brakes on the leisure travel as much as it kept the business travel at bay.”

But as with so many other areas of the economy right now, some workers are not benefiting from the rise in business, said Carlos Aramayo, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, a hospitality workers union. His members have only seen about 60 percent of their hours restored, Aramayo estimated, though the number may be higher this weekend. But whole departments at large hotels — typically people who worked in room service, dining, or lounges — remain at home.

“We strongly believe that in this moment, the interests of our members, the workers who want to get back on the job, align with the interests of our guests, who want to have a full service experiences at hotels,” Aramayo said. “From my perspective, a lot of the hotels in Boston are owned by real estate investment trusts …. Those are places that have been very aggressive at not reopening stuff. I think a lot of those financial entities are making these decisions without thinking of the guests.”

Officer Garcia took a picture of runners Tammy Kronebusch and Deb McClellan near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston on Thursday.
Officer Garcia took a picture of runners Tammy Kronebusch and Deb McClellan near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston on Thursday.CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF

Among those employees is Zalinda Singh, who worked for in-room dining services at the Hilton Boston Logan Airport from 2015 until 2020, when she lost her job because of the pandemic.

“It’s been my favorite place to work,” Singh said. “You get a sense of, I just made this person’s day much better. Even if they had a bad experience somewhere else, I can make it better.”

Singh lives in East Boston with her husband and 11-year-old daughter. They lost a family member to COVID, and she and a few other relatives got sick. Since federal unemployment assistance for people laid off during the pandemic ran out in September, she said, it’s been hard to make sure her daughter isn’t too worried about money.

Singh would love to go back to work, she said — she misses her co-workers and interacting with guests, making sure their trays are exactly right so she can bring a bit of joy to their days.

“We’re patiently waiting,” Singh said. “We’re feeling that we’re long overdue.”


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.

Hotel workers hoping for pandemic job protections

MARYANN SILVA HAS worked for 19 years as a full-time banquet server at the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Boston Common. The 63-year-old Lynn resident sets up and serves food to guests for weddings, meetings, birthday parties, and corporate events. 

She was “temporarily” laid off in March when COVID-19 hit and the hotel closed. But the property still hasn’t reopened. Silva remains on unemployment benefits and has no idea if she will get her job back. Silva is divorced with no children and takes care of her 97-year-old mother. She had been earning $60,000 a year. Now, she has turned in her leased car for a less expensive one and worries about losing her home if she can’t continue to pay her mortgage.  

“It’s so uncertain,” Silva said. “You’re working, at least you know you’re out there making a living for yourself and your family.” 

An amendment that will be considered as part of the House budget debate this week could give laid-off workers like Silva a small measure of hope. It would require hotel workers laid off due to the pandemic the right to be rehired into their old jobs if those jobs are brought back. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, and pushed for by the union UNITE Here Local 26, which represents Boston area hotel workers.  

For Silva, the knowledge that her job is protected “would take a lot of stress off of my shoulders, she said.  

UNITE HERE Local 26 president Carlos Aramayo said, “What people are looking for is some peace of mind that if and when the job is recreated, they will have the first chance to take that job.”  

The head of the Massachusetts Lodging Association did not return a call for comment. The national American Hotel and Lodging Association has generally opposed these types of policies, arguing that they place an additional burden on employers struggling to recover from the pandemic. 

The amendment would not mandate anything, but would let individual municipalities adopt a “right to recall” policy. Under that policy, a hotel that lays off a worker due to the pandemic and then reinstates that job any time during a two-year period would have to offer the laid off worker their old job back. There would be civil fines for noncompliance. 

Decker said hospitality workers have been hit hard by COVID-19 “and if we’re going to really be able to have a strong recovery in our economy we have to make sure the workers who helped build this economy and are most experienced are given the shortest path back to their jobs.” 

Similar policies have been adopted on a municipal level in several California cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Oakland, although a statewide right to recall bill was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom, a Democrat, said it would create an onerous burden on employers. A right to recall policy was also adopted earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Aramayo said the policy is necessary because of how hard the pandemic hit workers in the hospitality sector.  

According to state labor statistics, there were more than 380,000 Massachusetts leisure and hospitality jobs in January. That dropped to below 140,000 in April and has bounced back only partially, to 242,000 jobs by September. 

“Thousands of hospitality workers in the hotel industry were put out of work and continue to be out of work because the industry relies heavily on not just tourism, but also large-scale events that are not scheduled to happen anytime soon,” Aramayo said. 

Aramayo said many industry workers are older, female, immigrant and have little formal education. “These are not people who are going to be easily retrained for other jobs that would be equivalent in terms of income and standard of living,” he said. He worries that hotels will try to cut costs by replacing more experienced workers who have higher salaries with younger, cheaper workers. 

Aramayo said of 4,500 Boston hotel industry workers his union represents, only 400 to 500 are back at work. UNITE HERE workers do have a contract that requires managers to recall workers for up to a year after a temporary layoff. The amendment would extend that to two years and would also cover non-union workers. 

Laid-off Marriott Copley workers protest outside hotel

Workers who recently lost their jobs at the Boston Marriott Copley Place demonstrated in front of the hotel Friday, demanding that management provide full severance pay and reinstate them when business returns. The hotel, the second largest in Boston, reopened in August and laid off about half its staff — 230 workers and 30 managers — in September, according to Unite Here Local 26, the hospitality workers union that has been helping the non-union workers. Workers’ severance pay was capped at 10 weeks, instead of the previous 26, and they were told they could reapply for their jobs as new employees when demand rises.

Marriott Copley general manager Alan Smith, who previously noted that the hotel has experienced “unprecedented business impact,” told the Globe: “We respect the right to demonstrate.”

Many hotels have reopened around Boston, but business is bleak. Occupancy rates are hovering around 25 percent on average, and an estimated 8,000 hotel workers are still unemployed.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

Battery Wharf Hotel Workers Win Strike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 22, 2019

Contact: Nicki Morris, 857-498-2495, nmorris@local26.org

Twitter: @unitehere26

Battery Wharf Hotel Workers Vote on Tentative Agreement to End Strike

After 79 days on strike, Battery Wharf Hotel workers win monumental agreement

What: Battery Wharf Hotel workers to vote on tentative agreement and discuss their 79 days on strike at the Battery Wharf Hotel.

When: Friday, November 22, 2019 at 1:30pm

Where: Battery Wharf Strike Headquarters, 220 Commercial St, Boston, MA 02109

Who: UNITE HERE Local 26 striking hotel workers at the Battery Wharf Hotel, including hotel housekeepers, front desk reception, bellmen, cooks, dishwashers, and more

Note: Battery Wharf Hotel workers involved in the contract fight and UNITE HERE Local 26 Financial Secretary Carlos Aramayo will be available for interview in person at the event as well as by phone.

 

Why: After over eleven weeks on strike, UNITE HERE Local 26 and The Battery Wharf Hotel, part-owned and operated by Westmont Hospitality Group, have reached a tentative agreement. Since the UNITE HERE Marriott Strike of 2018, the Battery Wharf Hotel was the last hotel to agree to a contract that ensure sexual harassment protections, guarantee affordable healthcare, and provide enough income for hotel workers to support their families.

 

On October 3, 2018, Local 26 workers walked out at seven Marriott-operated hotels, including the Aloft Boston Seaport District, the Element Boston Seaport District, the Ritz-Carlton Boston, the Sheraton Boston, the W Hotel Boston, the Westin Boston Waterfront, and the Westin Copley Place. 7,700 Marriott workers in total went on strike from coast to coast. The Marriott Strike resulted in historic gains in the hotel industry.

 

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UNITE HERE Local 26 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents more than 12,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Boston and Rhode Island.  Learn more at www.local26.org

 

UNITE HERE represents over 300,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, and airport industries across the US and Canada. Learn more at www.unitehere.org.

 

46 DAY BOSTON MARRIOTT HOTEL STRIKE IS OVER

UNITE HERE Local 26 hotel workers ratify historic agreement with Marriott and will return to work

 

Boston, MA—The all-seasons strike of Boston hotel workers is over after strikers overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract with Marriott on Saturday. The 46-day strike, which was the longest and largest hotel worker strike in Boston’s history, led to the richest and most economically progressive contract in Local 26 history.

 

Hotel workers rallied around the slogan “One Job Should Be Enough” and called on Marriott, the wealthiest and largest hotel corporation in the world, to show leadership in providing more stable and secure jobs for hotel workers. Today’s agreement provides historic job security protections along with a wage and benefits package that significantly raises the standard for hotel workers struggling to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

 

UNITE HERE Local 26 President Brian Lang said:

“This victory is a testament to our members’ strength and tenacity. Hotel workers stood strong for more than six weeks in the wind, the rain, and the snow, up against the largest hotel company in the world. It was a hard fought victory, but in the end Marriott showed leadership and listened to our members’ concerns. From Day 1, we’ve encouraged Marriott to use their leadership in the hotel industry to make jobs in their hotels enough to live on, and today’s settlement goes a long way for Boston workers. Now we expect the rest of the hotel industry to follow that leadership and settle new agreements for the thousands of hotel workers with expired contracts across Boston and Cambridge.”

 

Hotel workers gained the support of Bostonians whose donations allowed strikers to run a strike assistance program to feed and support the most vulnerable strikers as rent and utilities became due. Strikers were also buoyed by customers and influencers who refused to cross picket lines—including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Boston City Council passed a resolution calling all city employees to not patronize hotels while workers were on strike.

 

Further details of the contract will be shared after the more than 5,000 Marriott workers still on strike in San Francisco and Hawaii reach agreements and end their strikes. Strikes at Marriott hotels ended with ratifications previously in San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, and Detroit.

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UNITE HERE Local 26 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents more than 10,000 members working in the hotel, food service, and airport industries in Boston and Rhode Island.  Learn more at www.local26.org

 

UNITE HERE represents over 270,000 members working in the hotel, gaming, food service, and airport industries across the US and Canada. Learn more at www.unitehere.org