Philly hotel workers start strike, call for better wages and working conditions


Nearly 60 workers at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District hotel began a strike on Sunday, seeking better wages and working conditions.

“Our bodies deteriorate from working so hard,” said Evelyn Rivera, 43, a cleaner at the Old Town hotel.

Members of Local 274 Unite Here working as housekeepers, cooks, laundry attendants and lobby workers began the strike with a picket line outside the hotel at 4:30 a.m. on Fourth and Arch streets, members said, and by mid-afternoon, more than two dozen marched and chanted on the sidewalk. They carried signs saying “Black Lives Matter! Black work counts! The majority of workers are black, brown or immigrants, the union said.

“While we respect the right to strike of employees, we are disappointed that Unite Here has chosen this path,” said a statement from Wyndham Hotel and Resorts. “The hotel is open and operational, and we have taken steps to ensure that guests are not affected.”

A spokesperson declined to say how many workers the hotel has in total or how many clients it serves each year.

Unite Here members have said they are prepared to stay on strike until a new contractual deal can be reached. It would replace the one that expired on September 30, 2019, a spokesperson said.

The hotel strike comes amid a period of nationwide unrest for workers seeking better pay and employment conditions. In an October article, the Washington Post reported that workers had gone on strike against 178 employers this year. The large number of people who have left their jobs, along with supply chain disruptions, the Post report reported, has given workers new leverage to demand better wages and working conditions from employers.

Gopuff delivery service drivers, including some in Philadelphia, have scheduled a 24-hour strike for Tuesday.

READ MORE: Using ‘Gopuff Yourself’ Slogan, Company Drivers Plan 24-Hour Wage Strike

The problem at Wyndham, workers say, is a salary that doesn’t keep pace with other hotels in the city and onerous workloads.

“We’ve been trying to get a living wage in our contract for two years,” said Monica Burks, 60.

Union members said a standard rate for housekeeping work in hotels is $ 18 an hour, but the Wyndham pays less than that.

Rivera, the housekeeper, said she made $ 15 an hour after working at the hotel for more than two years. “I’m taking care of three children and a grandchild on this, and it’s not enough,” she said.

Cleaning 14 rooms per shift, and up to 16 on busy days, is overwhelming.

“When I get home my feet are swollen, my feet hurt, my wrists hurt,” said Renee Holmes, 51, “to the point that I have to take a Motrin almost every day.”

Cleaning one of the hotel’s 360 rooms after a guest leaves involves changing bedding, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and wiping down furniture, she said. The number of rooms allocated for an eight hour shift leaves only half an hour for all these tasks in each room. It can be even more work in a room where the guests slept in both beds.

READ MORE: Workers have a new psychology. They tell the bosses they got it.

A more manageable assignment, workers said, would be 10 rooms per shift.

City council member Helen Gym spoke to the strikers on Sunday afternoon and noted that $ 100 billion in federal bailout funds had been allocated to support the hospitality industry. This money, she said, was intended to keep workers employed and paid a living wage. The hotel is located in one of the city’s wealthiest areas, Gym said, and those who serve its customers should get a share of that wealth.

“There is no wealth, unless there is something for everyone,” she said. “There is no prosperity, unless it is prosperity for everyone.”

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