By Nathan Lederman
BU News Service
BOSTON – As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, workers in the hospitality business continue to be affected. On Tuesday, Unite Here Local 26 – a union that represents workers in hospitality – hosted a virtual town hall on Facebook Live with Sen. Ed Markey to discuss the ongoing situation with Boston Marriott Copley Place. The hotel recently fired more than 230 employees and 30 managers.
Marriott made a profit this past quarter, but the layoffs at the Copley Place location have sparked outrage among former employees. The layoffs occurred a few days after a change in policy, which saw a reduction in employee severance packages.
The town hall was attended by more than 80 recently fired Marriott employees. Early in the event, Unite Here Local 26 President Carlos Aramayo introduced three speakers who told stories about their time working at the hotel and expressed frustration and worry over how they were let go.
Fitzgerald Fleury, an employee who worked in convention services at the Copley Place Marriott for 12 years, recounted a time in which the hotel had experienced a blackout. He said he recalled climbing up the hotel’s 36 floors multiple times with his fellow employees in order to help guests with their luggage.
“We did it with joy because, you know, we wanted to represent the hotel well,” Fleury said. “And at this time, the hotel is not representing us well at all. It just slapped us in the back without any gratitude.”
Now that he has been let go, Fleury said he lost his work-provided insurance and has taken a large cut in severance pay. Fleury, who said he has five children, expressed concern over what could happen if one day someone in his family got sick now that he has lost his insurance.
Marriott told employees that if they wish to return to work in the future, they will have to reapply and compete for their former positions.
“Some of us could have gone to school, but we chose just to do this as a career,” Fleury said, “and [it was] abruptly taken away from us without any guarantee of us returning back to work.”
The next two speakers, Diane Sealy and Elizabeth Morales, both worked as senior housekeepers at the hotel. Sealy worked there for 35 years and Morales for 26 years.
Sealy and Morales each received 10 weeks of severance pay. Like Fleury, each also lost their health insurance.
“From the beginning, I was told that we were a family, that we have to stick together,” Sealy said. “We deserve respect and a better [severance] package than that.”
According to Morales, Marriott changed the employee severance package policy three days before the mass firing. Before the change, employees were given a week of severance pay for every year they had worked for up to 26 weeks. Marriott removed this seniority-based system and reduced the maximum severance to 10 weeks, the employees said.
None of the speakers on the call said they were aware of the change prior to being let go.
“They did that because they don’t want to pay us the amount of weeks that we deserve for all the years that we [worked],” Morales said.
Once each of the three speakers had finished telling their stories, Markey engaged with each of them and asked questions concerning their level of stress and their general feelings.
Markey and Aramayo also discussed the similarities between the current Marriott situation and a nearly identical incident that happened at the Four Seasons on Boylston Street this May.
The Four Seasons also let go of workers and cut their severance packages. After widespread criticism and support from the likes of Markey and Unite Here Local 26, they provided their workers with full severance pay.
“Just absolutely, totally unconscionable,” Markey said of Marriott’s treatment of its long-time employees. “No matter what happens, you should be guaranteed that you’re at the front of the line to get your job back.”
Markey also pledged to communicate with Marriott officials at the “highest levels” to stand by the recently laid-off workers and promised to rally more support to their side.
“I know this must be a very difficult Thanksgiving for you,” Markey said. “But you have many people who are going to be fighting for you, in order to make sure that you get protected.”
The virtual town hall concluded with Aramayo asking all of the former Marriott employees to be unmuted on the Zoom call. As the call switched to a gallery view, the 80-plus people in attendance released a flurry of thank you’s and gratitude for the senator at the same time.
Fleury said he felt more confident in a positive outcome with Markey on his side.
“I’m very hopeful that something’s going to happen,” Fleury said, “especially having you in our corner.”