Justice for Hotel Workers
The UCC and Hartford's Adriaen's Landing Convention Center and Marriott Hotel
Supporting hotel workers in Hartford, CT, in 2007
In the early 2000s, Hartford, Conn., was selected to be the location of the UCC's 26th General Synod in June 2007. The newly constructed Adriaen's Landing complex with a Convention Center and Marriott Hotel were to be the center of Synod activities. However, some 18 to 24 months before the June, 2007, opening of GS, it became clear that a labor dispute was brewing between the workers in these facilities and the Waterford Group, the manager of both properties and owner of the Marriott.
The UCC's Connecticut Conference was following these developments closely because the Conference was scheduled to hold its October, 2006, annual meeting at the Convention Center.
The UCC has a long history of care and concern for economic justice for all people and for the right of workers to form or join a labor union, free from any retaliation or interference from an employer. The right to organize is an internationally recognized human right, part of the United Nation's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1997, General Synod 21 adopted a resolution affirming "the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workers' dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workers' autonomous decision to organize."
Hotel and convention center workers are of special concern. These jobs, when not covered by a union contract, are typically among the one-quarter of all jobs in this country considered "poverty-wage" jobs. These are jobs that pay so little, a full-time worker cannot keep a family above the poverty line. Moreover, health insurance and other benefits are very rare.
In an effort to improve these jobs, a growing number of hotel workers are forming and joining unions. In many of the nation's largest cities, hotel workers employed by the major hotel chains have a union contract. Moreover, in many cities the parent corporation has also agreed that workers in any new hotel acquired by the chain will have an unrestricted right to decide whether to form a union ("card check neutrality").
It is this right that the Waterford Group denied their workers at the Adriaen's Landing complex. In fact, Waterford refused to sit down and negotiate at all with their workers despite a Hartford city ordinance requiring them to do so (a requirement imposed on every firm that receives public money from the city as Waterford has done). The city of Hartford sued the Waterford Group over their refusal to comply with the ordinance.
Starting in the second half of 2005 and continuing into 2006, leaders of the UCC and the Connecticut Conference including General Minister and President John H. Thomas, Associate General Minister Edith Guffey, and Connecticut Conference Minister Davida Foy Crabtree worked to resolve the dispute. They and others met with the Waterford Group, the union UniteHere, and the major of Hartford, Eddie Perez. Thomas, Crabtree and members of the Connecticut Conference attended rallies in support of workers. Thomas and Iman Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, another organization planning to host a large event at Adrian's Landing complex in 2007, wrote an op-ed article that was printed in the Hartford Courant. Despite these efforts and many others, the dispute continued.
In March, 2006, the board of directors of the Connecticut Conference approved a resolution stating that conference "meetings will not be held at venues where there is a just and significant labor dispute and the Board believes moving to another venue is an appropriate response."
In a meeting one month later in April, the UCC's Executive Council also pondered this issue. The Council desired to hold the 26th GS in Hartford and hoped the labor dispute would be settled quickly. But, following the lead of the Connecticut Conference, the Council also resolved to avoid meeting at a venue where a significant labor dispute was occurring. In summer, 2006, as the dispute continued, the decision was made to use alternative facilities. Consequently, the GS met in the Hartford Civic Center, not the Convention Center, and used hotels throughout the city but not the Hartford Marriott.