Showdown looms at South Bay hotel

Workers at a Dorchester hotel who are currently working without a signed contract will gather this weekend to consider a boycott of their own workplace. The target will be the erroneously named Courtyard by Marriott South Boston, which is technically in Dorchester next to the South Bay Mall.

The 58 men and women who cook at and clean the property are members of Local 26, the Boston-based Hotel Workers Union that has members in some 27 area hotels. All the other unionized hotels reached agreements with owners last year. But Local 26 says that the owners of the Courtyard by Marriott property – controlled by Brockton-based Jiten Hotels and Hersha, a public Pennsylvania-based Real Estate Investment Trust – are not giving workers a fair deal at the negotiating table. There has been no progress in recent talks, according to union organizers.

Efforts to contact Courtyard by Marriott ownership for this article were unsuccessful. The Reporter visited the property, but a manager said he was not authorized to speak to the media. He said he would pass our request for information along to ownership, but no one responded to the Reporter’s request for an interview.

Back in 2007, a private arbitrator ruled that the hotel had improperly fired one of its employees – Ramon Suero – in part for organizing his fellow workers. A complaint to the National Labor Relations Board triggered a review and, ultimately, a ruling in favor of the workers and a new contract, but one that left them earning less and paying more for health care than peers at other local unionized hotels.

That contract has since expired and the two sides are now at an impasse.

Suero, who was re-hired by the hotel as part of the arbiter’s ruling in 2008, is one of the key organizers of the current negotiations. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to Dorchester in 2002, Ramon works three jobs to support his family, which includes three young children. His wife also works full-time. And yet, the Sueros have barely managed to stay in their Uphams Corner condominium. Low wages and health benefits are at the crux of the dispute, he says.

“Unity at this workplace has been very strong among the workers,” says Lisa Clauson, an organizer for Local 26 who is assisting Suero and his negotiating unit.

The union is planning a meeting this Saturday to discuss its latest strategy – which could very well include a boycott of the property itself. If members do vote to take such an action, it could begin as soon as St. Patrick’s Day.

Last week, the rumble ticked up a notch when union brethren from the behemoth SEIU local fired off a polite but pointed letter to Beth Scherer, Courtyard Boston’s manager.

“The members of Local 26 have made the Courtyard by Marriott Dorchester a home away from home for [union] staff over the past several years. As you know, our organization has spent over $197,000 at your hotel since 2010— including over $100,000 in 2012 alone— and many other labor, political, and community organizations utilize this property as well.”

The message was clear: If Courtyard workers call for a boycott, “we’ll be taking our business to one of the many nearby affordable union hotels that have signed an agreement.”

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