Tuesday, October 23, 2018

CityLab summit won't cross the picket line at Detroit's Westin Book Cadillac hotel

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2018 at 4:44 PM

click to enlarge UNITE HERE LOCAL 24
  • UNITE HERE Local 24

A strike at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in downtown Detroit has forced a major conference centered on the city’s revival to change venues.

CityLab 2018, the annual summit to discuss urban affairs hosted by The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, was slated to take place at the Westin Book Cadillac from October 28-30.

However, CityLab organizers announced last week that they planned to move the summit if the strikes had not been resolved. The summit will now be held in the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, which is seven blocks away at the corner of Randolph and Atwater. Marriott International Inc. operates both the Westin Book Cadillac hotel and the Detroit Marriott.

Rachel Gumpert, the national press secretary for Unite Here, says that CityLab made the right decision to move the summit to the Marriott. The Westin Book Cadillac, according to Gumpert, pays a lower wage than the Marriott to all its workers, despite being more profitable.

“We think it’s clear that CityLab is putting what is best for Detroit workers ahead of anything else, so we are very grateful and we know that our strikers in Detroit appreciate the decision,” Gumpert says.

Since Oct. 7, nearly all 160 Westin Book Cadillac employees who are represented by the Detroit-based union Unite Here Local 24 have been picketing outside the Westin Book for higher wages, more rights for temporary housekeepers, and greater transparency on technological changes that could endanger current jobs at the hotel. “One job should be enough for hotel workers to live in Detroit, raise a family, and retire with dignity!” a statement on the Unite Here website reads.

Dave Frassetto, 46, a bartender at the Westin Book Cadillac who is striking, says that his wages have been stagnant for the past six years.

“The only raise my job classification was given was a 50-cent raise over the course of two years,” said Frassetto. “And following that the hotel has been telling us that the tipped employees have been making too much money.”

Frassetto says that a pay discrepancy exists between the two Marriott companies in spite of Westin Book Cadillac higher profitability. Gumpert provided the Metro Times with a wage comparison of employees of the Westin Book Cadillac and the Marriott Renaissance. Bartenders at the Westin Book make almost $5 less than their counterparts at the Marriott Renaissance.

“I am not sure why when corporations in this country are given a 15 percent tax cut, it is so hard for that money to trickle down,” says Frassetto.

Bargaining between union workers and their employers began after union contracts with Local 24 expired June 30. In September, 98 percent of the 160 Westin Book Cadillac employees who are represented by Union Here voted to authorize a strike.

In a media release, president of Unite Here Local 24 Nia Winston said that hotel workers at Westin Book Cadillac were being punished for their loyalty to the hotel.

"Workers at the Marriott-operated Westin Book stuck by this city through its hardest times, taking years of pay freezes during the recession to make sure the hotel stayed open," Winston said.

"Now the Westin Book Cadillac is the most profitable hotel in the city, yet workers here are being punished for their loyalty, not rewarded — hotel workers at the Westin Book make thousands less a year than hotel workers six blocks away in the same city at hotels that are less profitable.”

The Detroit workers join nearly 5,000 other Unite Here workers currently striking from Marriott jobs across the country. The Unite Here Local 24 chapter represents over 7,000 hospitality workers in metro Detroit, Cincinnati, and Cleveland.

The Westin Cadillac strike comes on the heels of a large labor rally for a $15 minimum wage and union rights that was organized by Fight for $15 earlier this month. About 400 workers demonstrated outside the McDonald’s on Woodward Avenue, and former gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed and future 13th District Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib were among 18 cited for disorderly conduct.

The Westin Cadillac issued a statement earlier this month saying that its door will remain open and that it will “continue to bargain in good faith for a fair contract.” Gumpert says that further contract negotiations are set to take place Thursday and Friday.

But strikers remain committed to fighting for better job security and higher wages.

“As we say out here on the line, one day longer, one day stronger,” says Frassetto.

This year’s summit is scheduled to feature billionaire and New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, president of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, among others. Summits in prior years have been held in New York, Los Angeles, London, Miami, and Paris.

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