An occasional column about city life
Each morning, I am oddly comforted when the rallying cries begin. In the evening, when the shouts fade away, I feel the neighborhood becomes a little too quiet. The hotel workers on strike at Battery Wharf Hotel definitely have a hold on my attention.
The striking Local 26 workers, who had been toiling without a contract for over a year and a half, walked out a month ago. They seek what other hotel laborers in Boston already have – better pay and health insurance as well as contract provisions to protect immigrants, African-Americans and pregnant workers. The strikers also seek security for those who report sexual harassment. In short, they want just the basic stuff we all need to do a good job.
“One job should be enough” is a favorite striker chant. Makes sublime sense to anyone who holds down a full-time gig – except for the president and management of Westmont Hospitality, a Canadian company and owner of the hotel. Representatives of Westmont arrived at the bargaining table on Wednesday, September 25, with nothing to offer, a striking worker tells me. He says he was in the room when the parties met: “They’re in this for the long haul,” he says “And we are too.”
In general, the neighbors have been very sympathetic to the strikers. Still, there are those who complain about the noise. Out with my dog one day, I meet a woman who lives on Commercial Street directly across from the hotel. She says she supports the strikers but does not support the yelling from their ranks early in the morning. Another neighbor called Boston’s 311, the city’s help line, to lodge a brittle complaint (as reported by NorthEndWaterfront.com):“Local 26 demonstration is disturbing the peace in this part of the North End. When did yelling, banging and screaming become ‘a peaceful protest’ in a residential neighborhood? Their permit to demonstrate should either be revoked or modified to eliminate the noise they are bringing to our neighborhood for their own selfish goals.” (I add this editorial comment: It’s not “selfish” to fight to support your family.)
Whenever I hear the strikers strike up their band (“What do we want? CON-TRACT. When do we want it? NOW”) I am proud of their courage. I am also disheartened about the mess that’s become Battery Wharf. It was supposed to be the next big thing when a deep-pockets developer cozied up to City Hall and bought the 151,213 square feet along the Harbor, promising Xanadu. Top ticket consultants such as Jacques Nivaud, manager of the Boston Harbor Hotel, were brought aboard to flip Battery Wharf from an old-time hub of markets for meat, fish, vegetables and fruit into a shining hotel and condo development. The prestige Fairmont Hotel chain was signed on to run the hotel. A chef with Michelin stars was brought in to run the restaurant.
Within a few years, the scheme had unraveled. Of course, the big sign of trouble came when the Fairmont sold out. The Battery Wharf hotel was taken over by Ontario-based Westmont, which has run the property in fairly negligent fashion. Although the hotel can basically propel itself because of its spectacular waterfront location, the amenities, such as the restaurant, have struggled (the Michelin chef departed years ago). That Westmont flouts the neighborhood as well as local political pressure is fairly apparent. City political figures, such as state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, have thrown their weight behind the strikers with little affect. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is a well-known friend of unions and Big Labor. Westmont has an interesting strategy in appearing not to care about stepping up to give its workers the essentials other hotels offer.
Reportedly, the people who own the Battery Wharf condos don’t care about the hotel’s fading luxuries. Many hope Westmont closes the hotel and sells the space back to a developer who will build more residences to support the fiscal weight of Battery Wharf — a Waterfront property in need of a lifeline. Just like the strikers chanting at its front door.
Monica Collins, a freelance writer, lives on the Waterfront with husband Ben and dog Dexter.