Marriott CEO Slams Hotel Workers Union, Refuses to Attend S.F. Hearing

Striking hotel workers picket outside San Francisco's Palace Hotel, part of Marriott Hotels, on Oct. 6, 2018. (Bastian Greshake Tzovaras/Flickr)

This story was updated 11/1/18 at 10:45 a.m.

The chief executive of Marriott International issued a blistering critique of the union representing thousands of workers who've been striking at seven of the chain's hotels in San Francisco for close to a month, in a letter sent to a city supervisor on Wednesday.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson rejected an invitation from Supervisor Hillary Ronen to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting aimed at resolving the company's ongoing dispute with Unite Here Local 2, and claimed the union was more interested in coordinating a national labor action instead of settling local contract issues at the bargaining table.

"The union has attempted to portray Marriott as a company that has both disregarded its bargaining obligations and denied its employees fair wages and benefits," Sorenson wrote in a letter obtained by KQED. "That could not be further from the truth."

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On Oct. 4, more than 2,000 housekeepers, kitchen workers, bartenders, bellmen and others represented by Local 2 walked off the job at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown, the Marriott Marquis, the Marriott Union Square, the Palace Hotel, the St. Regis, the W and the Westin St. Francis.

Similar strikes, involving other Unite Here local unions, have been taking place in Oakland, San Jose and other several cities around the country.

The workers, who have been pushing for higher wages and better job protections, have not only been picketing outside of local hotels, but have also held marches and protests, in some cases leading to arrests.

Until now, Marriott has not spoken out extensively about the labor dispute.

"Although we have generally stayed silent, opting not to negotiate with Unite Here Local 2 in the press or on social media, please don't interpret this silence as confirmation of the union's claims," Sorenson said.

Arne Sorenson, President and CEO Marriott International, pictured in 2016.
Arne Sorenson, President and CEO Marriott International, pictured in 2016. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

His letter is in response to Ronen's invitation for the Marriott CEO to speak before a special board meeting set for Friday to discuss the strike.

"The hotel industry is a cornerstone of our economy," Ronen wrote to Sorenson last week. "As head of the largest employer in San Francisco's hotel industry, you play a critical role in all of this," Ronen wrote.

On Wednesday, shortly after Sorenson rejected the invitation, Ronen did not mince words.

"I'm very disappointed that the CEO of a company that makes so much money by operating in San Francisco and who could settle this strike today, won't take the time to attend this important hearing," Ronen said in a text to KQED.

"It sends the message that our city is just one more profit center, rather than a home for thousands of workers who are struggling every day," she said.

An aide to Ronen's office says her office expects nearly a thousand rank and file workers to show up at Friday's hearing.

Ronen, several other supervisors and Mayor London Breed, as well as the city's labor community, have all showed support for the striking employees.

The city's travel and hotel industry have stayed, for the most part, silent on developments in the labor dispute.

Not only does the letter represent Sorenson's first public comments about the San Francisco strike, it signaled a more aggressive tone from the company.

"We hoped to reach an agreement months ago. Unfortunately, the union seemed more interested in participating in a long planned, multi-city, 23-hotel strike against Marriott than they were in engaging in any meaningful negotiations," Sorenson said.

"The strike that has encompassed eight cities, including San Francisco, was not the result of a bargaining impasse in any city, but rather, it seems, part of the union's bargaining strategy from the outset," he said.

Sorenson says the company's employees are well-compensated, receiving strong wages, medical coverage and a pension fund, among other benefits.

Union officials declined to comment on Sorenson's letter.

"Supervisor Ronen's response says it all," said Unite Here press secretary Rachel Gumpert.

In the past, union leaders have said the strike would not end until the workers it represents don't need to work several jobs just to make ends meet.

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