Hundreds march in solidarity with Battery Wharf hotel workers one month into strike

By Katharine Swindells
BU News Service

BOSTON — Hundreds rallied in the North End Friday evening to show support for Battery Wharf hotel workers during their strike over contract changes.

The 75 workers, part of the UNITE HERE Local 26 Labor Union, walked out of their jobs at the Boston Harbor Hotel on September 5 over union contract disagreements. 

On the month milestone last night, the group marched from their picket outside the harbor-side hotel to the Paul Revere Mall, joined by organizations and citizens showing solidarity.

“They don’t respect you, they don’t care about how you feel,” said Serandou Kamara, a striking Battery Wharf worker. “The only thing they care about is money.” 

Kamara is one of the Hyatt 100, a group of housekeepers who were fired without notice by the hotel company in Boston in 2009, and replaced with lower-paid temporary workers, prompting a nationwide boycott. In 2014, the Hyatt paid the workers $1 million to settle the dispute and end the boycott.

“We are fighting for our rights, we are fighting for what we deserve,” Kamara said. “We are all going to make sure that we fight until we win.”

The union has been in negotiations with Westmont Hospitality Group, the hotel’s owners, over their new contract, since March 2018. They say Westmont is trying to freeze wages, threaten job security and change healthcare benefits and pensions.

Carlos Aramayo, the union’s secretary treasurer, said the hotel is also trying to remove protections for immigrant workers and staff who experience sexual harassment at work, and remove affirmative action contractual obligations.

So far, Aramayo said, both parties in the negotiations were very far apart and he did not see a potential resolution in the foreseeable future. 

“We are on strike for a very modest demand. We are on strike because we want one job to be enough,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

Aramayo said the group’s most important demand is the protections for immigrant staff, who the union believe make up over 70% of the Battery Wharf’s workforce, as well as sexual harassment protections, which he said every other union hotel in the city has agreed to. 

“That is not Boston values,” he said. “Boston is a union town, and we will strike until we win!”

Joseph Mackisan, a member of the housekeeping staff, said he has worked at the hotel for nine years, but the management had put them “between a rock and a hard place.”

“We’re not working now, and that’s hard for us, but we can’t work here under these conditions either,” he said.

Elizabeth Warren tweeted in support of the strikers in late August and said she was “standing in solidarity” with the striking workers.

“My campaign and I won’t spend any money at the Battery Wharf Hotel until this labor dispute is settled—because one job should be enough,” she said.

The rally ended with a performance by English political musician Billy Bragg who is in Boston for the last stop on his US tour.

“It’s a real honor to come down and play in support of the hotel workers,” he said to the crowd. “Those of us that work and write these kind of songs, we need to be in these kind of places to support working people. It’s a great old tradition.”

This strike takes inspiration from the union’s successful strike of Marriott workers at seven hotels across Boston in October 2018. They returned to work over 40 days later, having agreed to contract conditions including a more stable schedule, parental leave and immigrant protections. 

Battery Wharf hotel management were unavailable for comment.

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