Workers’ rights take center stage in San Francisco: Reflections on the CWC Conference, PRI in Person and the Marriott Workers’ Strike

Workers' rights take center stage in San Francisco: Reflections on the CWC Conference, PRI in Person and the Marriott Workers' Strike

Labour issues do not usually take centre-stage among ESG priorities at the annual PRI in Person conferences. That changed this year, when Marriott hotel worker Consuelo Escorcia addressed the attendees from the stage during the opening plenary, providing the often-abstract debates on whether workplace issues are an investment concern with a real-life case-in-point.

Consuelo is a worker at the Marriott Marquis – the hotel where the PRI in Person was held. While the PRI delegates discussed pressing issues related to responsible investment, Consuelo and 99% of her UniteHere Local 2 colleagues voted to strike.

Blocks away from the Marriott Marquis and the strike vote centre, the CWC and UniteHere convened a meeting with a local union representative and one of Host Hotels and Resorts’ (“Host”) key investors in UniteHere Local 2’s office. We had been working closely with UniteHere to engage Host investors since the spring, when urged our network to support a shareholder resolution for an annual sustainability report.

A publicly-listed REIT, Host owns a significant number of the properties that serve as Marriott-operated hotels. Indeed, according to its 2018 10-k report, Host generates approximately 70 percent of its revenue from Marriott-branded hotels. Host is the largest lodging REIT in the US. Fifty-seven percent of its expenses are in wages and benefits (see 10-k report, p.41).

It is common for REITs, such as Host, to claim they hold no responsibility for the terms of employment at the hotels that operate in the properties they own. Yet under the OECD Guidelines for MNEs, Host has a business relationship with Marriott International. Accordingly, it has a responsibility to use its leverage to influence Marriott to avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts. Similarly, under the OECD Guidelines, Host investors – including minority shareholders – also have responsibilities regarding human rights due diligence processes.

Initiated in collaboration with CWC Trustee Leadership Network Chair José Meijer (ABP) and PRI Board Member Xander den Uyl (ABP), the investor meeting in San Francisco served as an opportunity for the trustees and their fund’s asset manager, APG, to discuss the issues at stake with those most impacted: workers themselves.

While engaging some investors on labour issues continues to be an uphill battle, others are willing to sit in a room lined with banners and picket signs to consider integrating worker and labour-related issues into their engagements with investee companies. At a time when workers in the hotel hosting the PRI in Person are organizing under the campaign slogan “one job should be enough”, the importance of this work cannot be understated.

For many CWC participants who attended the PRI in Person, one of the more memorable moments would be walking together to the site of the UniteHere Local 2 strike vote. On October 4, Marriott workers at seven hotels in San Francisco – including the Marquis - joined their colleagues in eight cities across the US. In total, it is estimated that 8,000 Marriott workers are now on strike. To learn more, please click here.