Terminated Marriott Copley workers launch hotel boycott

A group of workers terminated last fall by the Boston Marriott Copley Place are launching a boycott against the hotel, escalating their fight to be reinstated as the summer travel season approaches and the beleaguered hospitality industry struggles to recover.

The employees, backed by the local hospitality workers union, are calling on guests and organizations to take their business elsewhere until the hotel agrees to reinstate the 230 workers who were let go. The workers are also demanding full severance pay instead of the reduced packages they were offered.

The boycott, set to be announced at a rally in front of the Marriott Copley on Friday morning, comes at a crucial moment for the hotel industry, which is starting to show signs of life as people get vaccinated and plan vacations for the first time in more than a year. The pandemic has devastated properties in Boston, which suffered bigger drops in revenue per available room than any other market besides New York and isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025.

As the second-largest hotel in Boston, and one of the few with a ballroom big enough to host more than 1,000 people, the Marriott Copley hosts many galas and dinners. GLAD, the Boston-based legal advocacy group for the LGBTQ community, hosts a fund-raiser there every year, including one scheduled for November. Since learning about the boycott, GLAD has taken action, executive director Janson Wu said in an e-mail: “We have let the Marriott know that we are not comfortable hosting our annual fundraising dinner there should the status quo continue. We hope that they will change course and do right by their employees and the community.”

Workers also plan to reach out to politicians, religious groups, and other worker advocacy groups to promote the boycott, which could be relatively easy to comply with given that travel isn’t expected to fully rebound right away. That means there will be more rooms available than usual, giving guests plenty of options to choose from, said Carlos Aramayo, president of Unite Here Local 26, which doesn’t represent the Marriott Copley workers but has been supporting their efforts. The boycott is a serious commitment for workers, who will continue picketing at the hotel, and it’s crucial they are front and center delivering the message, Aramayo said.

Local 26 said it has prevailed in all four boycotts it launched over the past decade: at three Boston-area Hyatt hotels starting in 2009, when housekeepers were fired after training their replacements, which resulted in a million-dollar settlement; and at Le Méridien Boston Cambridge in 2012, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston-Cambridge in 2014, and Hilton Boston Back Bay in 2016 — all demanding a fair process to join the union.

In 2014, Market Basket customers boycotted the grocery chain — an action encouraged by local lawmakers — in support of workers who walked off the job after their beloved CEO was ousted; after more than six weeks of protests, the CEO was reinstated.

“This is one of the worst examples we’ve seen of using the pandemic to cynically make permanent changes to the workforce,” he said. “And I think hopefully once the traveling public is aware of that, and given that there are going to be a lot of deals out there, they’ll choose to spend their dollar elsewhere until this gets resolved.”

Alan Smith, general manager of the Marriott Copley Place, declined to comment on the boycott.

After reopening in August, the hotel quickly moved to permanently lay off half its workforce, including Adi Fejzic, 52, whohas worked at the hotel for 19 years, after fleeing the war in Bosnia and arriving in Boston with nothing. He started in housekeeping and became a banquet server a few years later, regularly working double or triple shifts and sometimes staying overnight at the hotel in order to get up before dawn and start again the next day. One year, when 700 Muslim guests from Malaysia were staying at the hotel during Ramadan, Fejzic said, he worked through the night to serve meals to guests who were fasting during the day.

“Sometimes I couldn’t see my kids for four or five days because I’m working always,” he said.

Fejzic and his wife, who is a housekeeper at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, which is also a Marriott property, put their son through college at UMass-Amherst and were paying their daughter’s tuition there until they were both furloughed.

Fejzic and his wife, who is a union member with a 30-month right of recall to get her job back, are also struggling to pay the mortgage on their condo in Melrose. They’ve started to sell furniture and clothes, he said.

“I feel really like a piece of garbage,” he said.

Fejzic supports the boycott and is grateful to be doing something that could help him and his coworkers get their jobs back. The Marriott Copley was his first and only job in the United States, and he doesn’t know what else he can do to support his family.

“Who is going to take me at 52 years now?” he said. “I’m really scared. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

Recall Legislation to be Introduced in Front of Boston’s Worst Offender on Jobs Crisis

Contact:  Nicki Morris, 857-498-2495, [email protected]
Twitter: @unitehere26

Press Conference and Picket Line: Recall Legislation to be
Introduced in Front of Boston’s Worst Offender on Jobs Crisis

UNITE HERE Local 26 joins Senator Joe Boncore, former Marriott Copley
employees fired in middle of pandemic, to back recall legislation

What: After months of mass firings in the hospitality industry, UNITE HERE Local 26 called
March 22, Massachusetts’ Reopening Day according to Governor Charlie Baker, the deadline for
Boston hotels to publicly state that they planned to retain their furloughed workers. Not a
single hotel stepped forward to state their plan to recall their workers. Over the past year,
thousands of hotel workers sat at home, waiting for the phone to ring. In cases like the Marriott
Copley and the Revere Hotel, workers there have been permanently fired. Many feel utterly
betrayed, their decades of service and loyalty suddenly amounting to nothing. Because hotels
refuse to do the right thing on their own, the Hotel Comeback Bill is being introduced in the
Massachusetts House and Senate. The legislation seeks to get the hotel industry back on track
by allowing experienced workers to return to work once the COVID crisis is over.

At the Marriott Copley, after surviving on employment since March due to the COVID-19
pandemic, Marriott Copley workers were shocked and horrified to learn their furlough was
permanent. In September, over 230 Marriott Copley workers were fired. They were not offered
the chance to return to work when the crisis was over, but instead told they could reapply,
losing decades of service they put into Marriott. To add insult to injury, many fired workers
were offered less than half of the severance pay they had expected after years of loyalty and
hard work due to a sudden change in policy. Although the Marriott Copley workers are not
union members, UNITE HERE Local 26 is supporting them in their fight for just treatment.

When: Tuesday, March 23, 2021 from 10:00am-11:30am
Where: Marriott Copley Place, 110 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116
Who: Recently fired Marriott Copley hotel workers, UNITE HERE Local 26 President Carlos
Aramayo, Massachusetts Senator Joe Boncore
Note: Interviews available by phone, and after the event over Skype, and Zoom

Why: With over 8,000 union and nonunion Boston hotel workers unemployed, the members of
UNITE HERE Local 26 are proud to be working with Senate Joe Boncore and Representative
Marjorie Decker to provide some peace of mind for thousands of regional hotel workers. With
protections in place, Massachusetts could allow hotel workers to return to their positions once
the COVID-19 crisis is over, if and when their positions return.
Similar policies have gone into effect in several California cities, including Los Angeles, San
Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, and Philadelphia. Recently, Providence, Rhode Island became
the first East Coast city to provide such protections for hospitality workers.

UNITE HERE Local 26 is the hospitality workers’ union and represents over 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.

Boston Marriott Copley Boycott Press

How it started (Nov-Dec 2020):
We officially launch the boycott and start reaching out to customers (Ongoing):

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 [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.