Union Threatens Strike over Marriott’s Green Initiative

Darrell VanDeusen
Darrell VanDeusen

News reports on virtually everything over the past week (ok, more like nearly two years) has me shaking my head at the “crazy town” world we find ourselves living in.  I have restrained myself from writing blogs about the various things I regularly find absurd, largely because it would consume more time than I have.  But reports coming out over the past few days about the strike vote taken by UNITE HERE housekeeping employees at Marriott put me over the limit.

Today’s story involves a new definition of “featherbedding.”   It seems that Marriott is offering customers a deal: earn 500 bonus points each day you refuse housekeeping services.  Under the “Make a Green Choice” program you can refuse housekeeping services for up to three days. The idea is that this is environmentally friendly, with savings on the amount of water, electricity and chemicals used.

If you have traveled much you know that for years many hotel rooms have notes that say you can use your towels more than one time, just hang them up and housekeeping won’t change them.  Another valid way to save on energy use, and one (excuse the oversharing) to which I have subscribed for years.  So, Marriott’s program expands that option to linens.  But no good deed goes unpunished.

According to UNITE HERE, a strike might be called “very soon” at Marriott-branded properties around the country because the program hurts housekeepers, with workers prepared to strike in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, and on the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Oahu.  You see, being environmentally friendly cuts workers’ hours because there is less for them to do.

A UNITE HERE spokesperson, Rachel Gumpert, was quoted in news reports as saying that “the program takes advantage of well-intentioned guests who don’t realize that skipping daily housekeeping services” means less work for housekeepers.  Another union statement said that “workers are fighting for improved workplace safety, particularly around unsafe workloads and strenuous physical labor created by the so-called ‘Green Choice’ program, and pioneering job protections around technology and innovation in the hospitality industry.”  But wait, I thought the concern was the program meant there was less to do.

Let’s tease this out:  the union is suggesting that unnecessary work (how often do you change your sheets and towels at home?) is necessary work because it provides hours of work for employees.  Therefore, a hotel cannot tell guests not to use housekeeping.   That is pretty close to suggesting that Marriott should pay workers for doing work that is not needed or requested.

The old school labor law term for that sort of thing is “featherbedding” (which, per Wikipedia “is the practice of hiring more workers than are needed to perform a given job, or to adopt work procedures which appear pointless, complex and time-consuming merely to employ additional workers”).   How unintentionally apt here.   In solidarity, I will continue to put the “do not disturb” sign up on my door regardless of which hotel I stay in.

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