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Citing poor work conditions, Stamford Sheraton workers push for union

November 20, 2018

STAMFORD — Low wages, poor benefits, excessive work and an overall lack of respect are some of the reasons Sheraton Stamford Hotel employees say they want to unionize.

Employees held a protest Monday at the Main Street hotel, demonstrating their desire to join Local 217 of Unite Here, a union representing about 3,000 hotel and food-service workers in Connecticut.

If successful, the Sheraton would join Hilton Stamford as the only two hotels in the city to unionize.

In January, Hilton Stamford workers voted overwhelmingly to unionize, but their contract has not been voted on by hotel management.

On Monday, Sheraton workers handed over union cards signed by 80 percent of the roughly 120 workers at the hotel, according to union leadership.

Pierre Belizaire, who has worked in the Sheraton banquet department for 13 years, said his job changed radically eight years ago.

When he started at the hotel, he said banquet workers, including waiters, all shared gratuity. But he said that practice has been eliminated.

Belizaire said he used to make more than $800 after tax every week, but his paycheck is now between $200 and $400 a week. On Monday, one of his demands to management was to return the eight years of gratuity to the workers.

“They don’t respect us,” he said.

Rodolfo Oyarvide, a waiter at the hotel, said he is in charge of serving people at seven tables for one event. By comparison, he works three tables at the unionized Hyatt Regency in Greenwich. He also must wash dishes, a job handled by a different department at the Hyatt.

“That’s a lot of work,” he said.

Quincy McNellie works at the hotel front desk and said his job duties have grown since he was hired, and now include serving customers drinks from the Starbucks inside the building. He also has to drive customers to and from locations.

“It takes me away from the front desk, where I need to deal with a million guests,” he said. “We got people from management standing right there watching this happen and not even assisting in helping us.”

On Monday, while addressing front office manager David Montaque, McNellie said he wants to focus on front desk duties.

“We don’t want to do multiple jobs,” he said. “No barista at Starbucks, no van driving … we just want to do front desk work.”

Multiple workers and elected officials spoke directly to Montaque, unloading a litany of complaints.

Thomas Carlos, general manager of the Sheraton, was not at the hotel during the protest, but said he was shocked when he heard so many employees are unhappy with the work environment.

“We provide a lot of love and care for our team members,” he said. “I feel like it’s one of the best hotel working environments in the entire market.”

Nina Sherwood, a member of the Stamford Board of Representatives, was among the elected officials who joined workers at the protest.

She voiced concerns about the Sheraton hiring Cruz & Associates, a “union-avoidance” company that seeks to dissuade workers from unionizing.

Cruz & Associates was used by President Donald Trump’s company to block organized labor at his hotels, including at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, where workers voted for a union after learning they earned $3 an hour less than their counterparts at other hotels.

“I’m concerned about you hiring Cruz and Associates,” Sherwood said. “The issue is that having one-on-one meetings with employees is intimidating. Even though it may be legal, what you are doing, in my opinion, it’s unethical.”

Officials shared stories of workers being approached by Cruz employees inside hotel rooms in an apparent effort to scare them from organized labor.

“The city of Stamford will not tolerate any kind of harassment, intimidation, threatening that goes against these people’s right to vote for the unionization process,” said Jonathan Jacobson, another member of the Stamford Board of Representatives.

Sheraton workers voted against forming a union 15 years ago.

The hotel has become a popular location for the Stamford Democratic City Committee to host election night watch parties.

Sherwood wondered why members of the committee, as well as Mayor David Martin, did not attend Monday’s rally.

“This is the Democratic Party and this is the Northeast, this is New England. Where are the stewards of the labor movement? I think it’s problematic that they’re not here,” she said.

Martin did not respond to a request for comment.

Josh Fedeli, chairman of the Stamford Democratic City Committee, said the Sheraton union issue has not been discussed in meetings and the committee has not voted on a position.

“With this being brought up, it may change the approach based on the outcome,” he said, referring to the committee’s relationship with the hotel going forward.

The committee’s next meeting is Nov. 28.

Four more worker rallies are planned at the Sheraton in the next two weeks.

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