Unions Picket Anti-Worker Boston Marriott Copley Place

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For over a month, union members have been picketing outside the Boston Marriott Copley Place. The city’s second largest hotel hired a Florida-based contractor, CRS, which is paying out-of-state, non-union workers to renovate rooms at substandard wages. On Thursday, Working Mass was outside on Huntington Ave to learn more from three members of IUPAT DC 35 about how the hotel is undercutting all Boston workers.

“I was a glazier for 42 years,” said Bryan O’Sullivan, a retired organizer and past president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35 (IUPAT DC 35). “I’ve done a lot of work in buildings in the area, and now I’m out here paying it forward for the current members so that they’ll be able to retire when their time comes.”

“For DC 35 — painters, wallcoverers, drywall finishers, and glaziers — our bread and butter is hotel work. Every 10 years this Marriott redoes their rooms, and we’ve been out here for well over a month now because they are not meeting community standards of wages and benefits.” Instead, he said, “They’re taking advantage of cheap, non-union labor from out of state.”

Bryan O’Sullivan (right), past president of IUPAT DC 35, outside the Boston Marriott Copley Place. IUPAT DC 35

“Workers in the hotel industry have been under attack for years. And it’s not just us Painters who are affected by fights like this; It’s the Laborers, the Carpenters, the building trades in general,” O’Sullivan said.

The Marriott Copley Place has a history of trying to push down wages and working conditions in Boston.

In 2012, the Marriott Copley Place hired Baystate Services for renovations after the Woburn-based general contractor underbid union competitors by half. A state investigation later found that 15 construction companies involved in the project misclassified workers as independent contractors, dodged taxes and benefits payments, and worked some employees 12 hours a day, six days a week, at $4 an hour. State law ultimately protected the hotel owners and these contractors from being charged for breaking tax and labor laws.

In 2020, the Marriott Copley Place also permanently laid off half its workforce, many with decades of seniority. Over 230 of its hotel workers were told to reapply as new employees after the pandemic and were issued significantly reduced severance pay. Although it does not represent them, UNITE HERE Local 26 is supporting the Marriott Copley Place hotel workers and their call for a boycott until they are reinstated.

Union members rallied outside the hotel on March 4. IUPAT DC 35

Noting the attacks on these workers and those at other anti-worker hotels, O’Sullivan connected the current struggle over renovations to broader worker struggles and expressed gratitude for the hotel and aviation workers who have joined the picket line.

Hundreds of union workers rallied outside the hotel entrance on the morning of March 4 to stand up for good jobs in Boston. Members of IUPAT, the Carpenters, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and other members of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council were joined by UNITE HERE Local 26, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and their president Sara Nelson, and Mayor Michelle Wu.

Writing that “a significant portion of your business — as much as 30 percent — is currently filled by crew layover stays,” AFA-CWA was among seven aviation unions that issued a letter on March 1 declaring their combined 180,000 members will take their business elsewhere: “We are mobilizing at all levels of our unions and engaging with airline management to move our business to other hotels until you have resolved this dispute to the satisfaction of our allied unions. We will not be using your hotel while you undermine the working people of Boston. We do not cross picket lines.”

School trips and academic gatherings also make up a meaningful part of the hotel’s business. On Friday, as first reported by Working Mass, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, which represents 23,000 educators, emailed leaders of AFT locals in the state calling the hotel’s actions “unacceptable” and urging them to inform their members of the issue. President Beth Kontos, who is also a DSA member, highlighted that the union does not cross picket lines and wrote, “Please do not patronize the hotel nor book your future events at the Boston Marriott Copley Place until this labor dispute is satisfactorily resolved.” AFT Massachusetts includes the 10,000-member Boston Teachers Union.

“We’re happy to get that support from workers in other industries,” O’Sullivan said. And turning to the need for strong unions, which raise wages for union and non-union workers alike, he added that, “For us, we all live here, and Boston is an expensive place to live. People know that once you let one hotel or one employer get away with this, others will soon follow.”

AFT Massachusetts President Beth Kontos (right) supported laid off Marriott Copley Place hotel workers at the Labor Day rally in 2021 and recently told Working Mass that “We always honor picket lines.” AFT Massachusetts

Daniel McHugh is an apprentice glazier who recently finished the first year of a three-year apprenticeship. Pointing to some examples of glasswork in the buildings around us, he described how glaziers install and replace all kinds of glass used in construction. As an apprentice, McHugh works most of the year, gaining on-the-job training, interspersed by four stints of school-based training that each go for a week.

“I was a window cleaner for 20 years — 10 years non-union and then with SEIU — and I wanted to learn something new,” he said. “I’m also getting older, and I have to think about retirement. I had some friends that were in the glaziers’ union, and the health insurance, pension, annuity, and other benefits — everything is better.”

“But I just got laid off because the work is slow. I can call the union hall, but right now I might as well come out and stand with my brothers and sisters,” McHugh said, explaining how this fight ties into his own livelihood and that of other members who need these jobs and are ready to work.

“This Marriott project is commercial so they’re taking away commercial jobs from Boston,” said Anthony Thompson, a Boston resident and painter since 1985 who does a lot of commercial painting. “I take it very seriously, and we’re out here to fix the problem.”

“I’m proud of our union,” he said. “Our union is strong, and we’re going to keep fighting.”

For anyone who would like to join them on the picket line, union members are on Huntington Ave outside the Boston Marriott Copley Place everyday from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Shane Levett is on the Steering Committee of Worcester DSA, an editor at Working Mass, and a member of National DSA’s Democratic Socialist Labor Commission.

Featured image: Anthony Thompson (right) and Daniel McHugh (second from right) outside the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Shane Levett/Working Mass

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