Marriott Group, the American multinational hotel company with whom Unite the Union signed a franchise agreement for their new Birmingham hotel and conference centre, were fined £71,000 for failing to pay minimum wage to some employees, as the Sun reported.
Marriot have also faced mass strikes driven by low pay. In 2018, 8000 Marriott workers went on strike across at least 8 cities over issues with labour standards and practices and the fact that Marriott employees were having to work more than one job to get by. Unite Here, a union with no relation to Unite the Union, called the 2018 Marriott strike “the largest multi-city hotel strike in North American history”.
The signs held by strikers read “One job should be enough”. Workers from Detroit said they were being paid up to $5 per hour less working at a Marriot property than at other major hotels in Detroit. In normal times, Marriott has yearly income in the billions.
“All we’re asking for is a livable wage, our fair share, and parity,” said a Detroit union rep at the time, “A worker … should not have two and three jobs to make ends meet.”
Unite the Union have so far spent over £98million on the hotel and conference centre. In 2016, Unite formed Blackhorse HCC as a subsidiary of the Union to own and operate the Birmingham hotel and conference centre. On the same day in 2016, Blackhorse signed a branding and franchise agreement with Starwood License and Service Company, part of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. In 2016, Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels and Resorts and in doing so surpassed Hilton to become the largest hotel chain the world.
Yet it was less than 2 years later that 8000 workers would walk out of Marriot owned and operated locations because the company was not paying them enough to live on. Unite have said they reject ‘shabby employment practices’. But, given that Unite blamed the majority of the increased costs of the Birmingham complex (which has risen since 2015 from original estimates of £7million to a current total of over £98million) on ‘employment protocol’, questions are being asked as to why this wasn’t considered from the beginning.
If Unite did sign a franchise deal with a multinational company known for poor employment practices whilst simultaneously not taking into consideration the cost of good employment practices for their own investments funded with members’ money, their decision-making looks deeply hypocritical.