Federal Labor Watchdog Investigates Contractor That Hired Replacement Marriott Workers

A sign is posted in front of a Marriott hotel on Nov. 16, 2015, in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The National Labor Relations Board has launched an investigation into claims one of the workers brought in to replace thousands of Marriott hotel employees, who recently ended a two-month strike in San Francisco, was fired for talking with a union representative.

The unidentified worker's complaint, obtained by KQED through a Freedom of Information Act Request, alleges that the Hayward-based company, Environmental Service Partners (ESP), "terminated" the worker for speaking with a representative of Unite Here Local 2.

The redacted complaint says the worker was fired from working at a San Francisco hotel after a security guard reported to ESP that he saw the employee "speaking with a lady with Local 2."

Firing a worker for talking to a union official is a violation of federal labor law. Under the National Labor Relations Act, "it is unlawful to discourage union activities or sympathies."

"It is very disturbing to hear of this, particularly because it is one of now multiple reports from temp workers alleging violations of their rights," said Unite Here press secretary Rachel Gumpert.

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The NLRB investigation is the second time ESP has come under government scrutiny in connection with employment misconduct allegations by housekeepers who replaced Marriott workers during the San Francisco strike that ended last week.

Three employees contracted by the company have filed wage theft claims with the California Labor Commissioner's Office, alleging that ESP withheld close to $13,000 in wages and overtime and other benefits.

And one employee who told the San Francisco Chronicle she was not being paid for her work later told the paper she was fired after speaking out about the issue.

Labor experts say the complaints show that non-unionized temp laborers are particularly susceptible to retaliation.

"They are very vulnerable when they put themselves out there," said Veena Dubal, an associate professor of law at UC Hastings. "They are being so closely watched by both Marriott and by their own employer."

"There's hypersurveillance. All the corporate entities are super vigilant (and) weary of union activity among the workers who are there temporarily," Dubal said.

Katherine Fiester, a staff attorney at San Francisco-based Legal Aid at Work, said people who replace striking employees have to work in contentious situations.

"The employer is already under attack from its permanent workforce," Fiester said. "As a temporary worker you are seeming to be involved with a similar problem."

"You are more vulnerable to abuse and retaliation, failure to be paid correctly," she said.

Unite Here officials say they are not representing the worker who filed a claim with the NLRB because he or she is not a member of the union.

Marriott, which has said in the past that its contractors abide by the law, referred questions about the cases to ESP.

ESP has not returned several calls for comment, and the NLRB did not respond to an emailed request about its investigation's scope.

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