Workers Filed Complaint at JW Marriott

Housekeeping workers at the JW Marriott Santa Monica Le Merigot, owned and operated by Columbia Sussex, filed a complaint against the hotel with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health on February 25, 2021. The complaint, filed with the assistance of UNITE HERE Local 11, alleges violations of emergency temporary standards enacted by the state agency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The violations alleged in the complaint include inadequate disinfection of certain employee-only areas, inadequate measures for physical distancing in employee dressing rooms, and inadequate training on COVID policies, procedures, and related benefits of these measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Despite the fact that most housekeeping workers at the hotel are monolingual Spanish speakers, the workers allege that Le Merigot has offered its minimal COVID-19 training sessions only in English.

“I wish I had training in the language I speak, which is Spanish, to be able to keep myself safe while working,”said Blanca Guerrero, a housekeeper at the JW Marriott Le Merigot and one of the workers who filed the Cal/OSHA complaint.

In addition to the alleged ongoing violations, workers allege that until mid-February 2021, Le Merigot was not providing enough face coverings or hand sanitizer to housekeeping workers, which forced workers to buy their own masks to use at work and caused some of them to use hazardous cleaning chemicals to disinfect their hands when their supply of sanitizer ran out. After UNITE HERE Local 11 began investigating these issues, workers reported that Le Merigot improved these and several other practices.

Given the reported lack of effective training by Columbia Sussex, UNITE HERE Local 11 conducted a Spanish-language training on Cal/OSHA’s emergency temporary standards for Le Merigot workers outside the hotel on Thursday afternoon. Lack of adequate training in Spanish has made workers worry that they are not fully prepared to both comply with the required standards and keep themselves safe on the job.

This complaint is the latest in the years-long dispute between JW Marriott workers and Columbia Sussex. In 2016, housekeeping workers voted overwhelmingly to join UNITE HERE Local 11. In 2018, eleven housekeepers filed wage claims against the company and recently, nearly three years later, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has scheduled hearings starting in May. In 2019, workers successfully pushed for a Santa Monica housekeeper-protection ordinance to make sure they were paid fairly for heavy workloads. Columbia Sussex local management and the company’s attorneys expressed alarm over the worker-protection legislation and workers alleged that hotel managers unlawfully pressured them to sign statements opposing the law, leading to an investigation by and settlement with the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. In October 2020, Katie Porter, Ted Lieu and six other members of Congress from around the country called for a federal investigation of Columbia Sussex after it was approved for $50 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds from the program meant to assist small businesses.

These compounding incidents led to the Santa Monica Democratic Club’s unanimous approval of a resolution last Wednesday calling on Columbia Sussex to cease any future operations in the city.

Workers hope that the complaint filed with Cal/OSHA will lead to a state inspection of the COVID-19 protocols in place at Le Merigot to ensure their safety at work. Meanwhile, in collective bargaining, workers are seeking fair wages, affordable health insurance, and enforceable COVID-19 safety protocols. During the pandemic, Columbia Sussex has refused to cover the cost of health coverage for temporarily laid-off workers.

Submitted by Rachele Smith, UNITE HERE! Local 11 Communications