Hotel workers planning May Day march: ‘One job should be enough’

Ade Adigoun (L) and Jose Maquin

Last fall, nearly 8,000 Marriott workers in eight cities carried out the largest hotel strike in U.S. history. After two months on the picket lines, UNITE HERE members declared victory, ratifying new contracts that raised wages by as much as $4 an hour and established new protections against sexual harassment and assault on the job.

Marriott workers’ rallying cry – “One job should be enough!” – captured the struggle many families face to maintain healthy work-life balance. Wages aren’t keeping up with rising rents, health care costs and other expenses in many parts of the country, especially urban areas.

Now the slogan has been adopted by hotel workers in the Twin Cities, where 1,200 members of UNITE HERE Local 17 are bargaining contracts with eight hotels this spring. The union will mobilize hundreds of members and supporters for a march through the streets of downtown Minneapolis on International Workers’ Day, May 1, beginning at 4:30 p.m. in Peavey Plaza. (Click here for more information.)

In interviews, two hotel workers leading the contract campaign explained what’s at stake in this round of negotiations – and shared their experiences trying to survive on one job in our community. Jose Maquin of south Minneapolis has over 10 years’ experience working in hotels, most recently in room service at Hotel Ivy. Ade Adigoun of St. Louis Park has worked as a housekeeper at the Millennium Hotel for the last 15 years. Their remarks have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

UA: What issues are most important to you in this round of contract negotiations?

JM: Not so much my department, but housekeeping. Ninety percent of housekeepers are minorities or immigrants. They are the most vulnerable group of employees in a hotel. They work hard; I see that every day. And I see that they are shy, they are quiet and they don’t always feel comfortable speaking up when they are hurt or feel unsafe. And they often work paycheck to paycheck. I feel we need to stick together.

UA: What improvements are you seeking?

JM: Wages. The minimum wage is going up, and that is good. But I feel like housekeepers should earn higher than just the minimum. I make the minimum, and I’m OK with that because I get tips. Unfortunately, I don’t think people who stay at hotels think they should tip their housekeeper. Sometimes they do, but housekeepers should be compensated better.

UA: The slogan of the May 1 march is “One job should be enough.” How hard is it for you and your co-workers to survive on one hotel job alone?

AA: People are doing two jobs because the hotels are not paying enough money. I’ve been working at Millennium for 15 years, and I still only make $15 an hour. It’s not enough; I’ve looked for a second job. People need to make $20, $25 an hour or more.

JM: I have two jobs. I have a baby with my wife. She works, and she just got a second job. We had to. It’s hard to survive without a second job. So when I hear “one job should be enough” – I wish that would be the case. If I’m absent from home because I have to work to survive, then I don’t have as much quality time with my baby.

When you think about it, there are so many social issues that arise because we are not able to spend time with our children, because we have to work a second shift. Otherwise, we won’t be able to eat or pay the mortgage or rent.

UA: As a union, you’ve reached out to workers in other unions for support. Why is that important?

AA: We have a lot of other union groups who want to support us, people who fight for good employment, good wages. We tell everyone, don’t just bring yourself. Bring your friends, your wife, your boyfriend, your kids – everyone who can walk.

JM: An issue like fair wages, it doesn’t affect just us. It affects everybody. As workers, we need to support each other in order to accomplish anything we want to accomplish.

UA: This is the highest-profile contract campaign at Twin Cities hotels in at least a decade. Is there a sense of urgency?

AA: In a day, we might make $100. But every day one housekeeper makes $3,000 for the hotel. You give me $100 out of $3,000 or more? That’s cheating. We want to eat a little of their cake…

JM: The hotels are making record profits. They have a lot of money. If we don’t ask them to share it with us, to give us a little part of the pie, they won’t.

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