Not Crossing the Line

I refused to cross a picket line last week. Showing up for an event that I was a speaker for, I approached the hotel and saw the protests: dozens of picketers from UNITE HERE, who have been protesting Marriott Hotels across the country for months. Though I was on the agenda to speak, and I’d flown in from out of town, for me there was no doubt what I’d do.

Being a progressive, pro-worker, or frankly a humanitarian means you don’t cross a picket line.

My grandfather was a janitor at the luxurious Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, site of the 1960 Democratic Convention in which John F. Kennedy was nominated for President.  He was proud to work in a place of such glamour and historic import. Combined with my grandmother’s work as a seamstress, they made a decent living in the 1950s. My grandparents took a big gamble by moving to Downtown Los Angeles in search of a better life from their existence in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

While they loved Texas, the opportunity for economic advancement was limited and the racism they encountered was rampant. My grandparents and their three young children picked cotton, beets and any other crops they came across to make money as part of the long journey to California.

While life wasn’t easy for them in Los Angeles, they were grateful for their jobs that afforded them enough of a living to buy a car, to own a home. Today, a job as a janitor or in a garment factory can hardly support a family. Unions like UNITE HERE which is successfully taking on Marriott International Hotels for increased wages, better job security and workplace safety measures must be respected for their commitment to represent those workers who we don’t think about.

They are the invisible people who prepare our meals. They carry our luggage. They clean our rooms. They are responsible for making or breaking our hotel stay. They smile at us and wish us a wonderful visit.

UNITE HERE Local 2’s 12,000 members of housekeepers, dishwashers, servers, bartenders, cooks and bellmen that serve the Bay Area have been fighting for livable wages, health care, retirement funds, and for a stronger a voice on the job. They are doing so in response to the rising cost of living in the Bay Area.

When I realized that keeping my speaking engagement meant crossing a picket line, I started calling conference organizers who cited the challenges to plan, much less move an event. The greatest irony is that the event was focused on financial empowerment and spearheaded by a nonprofit business organization dedicated to serving people of color. In October of this year, The Communications Network took the extraordinary step of moving its 1,000-person conference from the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco because it was under union boycott. The organization’s decision to move venues was costly from a financial standpoint. Fenton was proud to sponsor CommNet’s conference and even prouder to be affiliated with an organization willing to do what wasn’t easy, but was right.

Perhaps with UNITE HERE’s hard fought victory against the biggest hotel chain in the world other hotel operators will follow suit and provide their workers the wages and protections they deserve. As the picketers’ signs say, one job should be enough.

But until that day comes — because of them, because of my grandfather – I cannot cross a picket line. I urge you to call upon your humanity to do the same.


By: Valarie De La Garza


Photo courtesy of UNITE HERE