UNITE HERE Local 7 president Roxie Herbekian speaks to members of the union at a rally Sept. 26.
UNITE HERE Local 7 president Roxie Herbekian speaks to members of the union at a rally Sept. 26.

Unionized employees working for three large hotel chains in Baltimore voted to let their contracts expire, allowing them to move forward with potential strikes and other job actions as they push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Workers from the Radisson Baltimore Downtown-Inner Harbor, Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor and Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor hotels voted Wednesday to let their current union contracts expire. The results were announced Thursday night during a raucous rally of servers, housekeepers and other hotel support staff.

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Roxie Herbekian, president of UNITE HERE Local 7, the union that represents the workers, said the votes were overwhelmingly in favor of ending the contracts, with only three no votes among the hundreds of workers who voted. Employees at the hotels have rallied around the call of “One job should be enough,” wearing T-shirts and regularly breaking out into a chant to drive the notion home.

“This vote was to start taking action,” Herbekian told the crowd, adding that the hotel chains “have not offered enough to reach our demand.”

A Hyatt spokesperson said the existing collective bargaining agreement between the Hyatt Regency and Unite Here has been extended and negotiations with the union for new contract will continue on Oct. 16.

“We hope to successfully negotiate a fair contract that cares for our colleagues soon,” wrote Michael D’Angelo, a vice president of labor relations for Hyatt, in a statement.

“Our colleagues are the heart of our business, and we respect their right to voice their opinions as Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inner Harbor works through union negotiations," he wrote. “Hyatt has a long-standing relationship with Unite Here and has successfully negotiated fair contracts many times in the past, with our colleagues’ best interests in mind.”

Hilton and Radisson representatives could not be reached for comment.

The vote sets the stage for employees at the three hotels and the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront to take more drastic measures if contract talks should stall. The union is pushing the hotels to begin paying a $15-an-hour minimum wage ahead of 2025, which is when the state’s minimum wage will rise to that rate.

Employees at the Marriott already have begun to demonstrate, as Herbekian said that Marriott employees had just recently organized and don’t have a contract that restricts them from picketing the way employees at the other hotels do.

The vote will allow the contract Radisson workers have with the hotel to expire Monday while the other two contracts can be terminated once the union gives the companies 10 days’ notice, Herbekian said.

Thursday’s rally became about more than just employees’ pay, as workers asserted the companies contribute to Baltimore’s wealth and income inequality.

Andre Eldridge Jr., who works in event services at the Marriott, said he regularly works long shifts and “there’s not a day where my ankles ain’t hurt."

He said the company capped employees’ wages at $13.50 an hour, which he juxtaposed against the Marriott’s city property tax bill, which is only $1 per year, despite the 32-story harborfront hotel being valued at well over $100 million.

“You don’t see that money up in Park Heights,” said Eldridge, pointing to more affluent neighborhoods like Locust Point as being the true recipients of the hotel’s economic impact.

Chuck Altvater, a banquet server who also works at the Marriott with several family members, said the company takes away health care coverage for employees who don’t average 30 hours of work per week, which puts workers whose hours fluctuate in a difficult situation.

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As a banquet server, he said he regularly sees his hours diminish during slower periods of the year. He said he had to put his plans of having a child on hold when he lost his company health insurance.

Stacey Whye, who’s worked 10 years as a housekeeper and works at the Hilton Baltimore, said employees feel disrespected by management who continue to fight pay raises and extra protections for employees.

“Hilton is always saying, ‘We’re a team.’ We’re not a team. The union is a team,” Whye said.

Donna Edwards, president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, said the hotel workers are fighting for more than just individual salaries, as increased wages could help spur growth in neighborhoods away from where the hotels are.

“You’re fighting for the soul of our city, for the economy of our city,” Edwards said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Catherine Rentz contributed to this report.

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