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On Labor Day, mayoral candidates unite in fight for workplace equity

Union members were joined by Boston mayoral candidates and members of the congressional delegation at a Labor Day event which included a demonstration at the Marriott Copley Place and a cookout in Copley Square.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

In a sea of political signs and union flags, all five major mayoral candidates came together to celebrate workers and rally for worker protections on Labor Day — just about a week before an increasingly heated campaign culminates in the Sept. 14 preliminary election.

The “Frontline First” event, held outdoors between Marriott Copley Place and the Prudential Center, galvanized a diverse crowd of hundreds from local unions and cultural associations. Together, they chanted “When we fight, we win” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” Their shirts brandished reminders to “put frontline workers first.”

“Labor Day is our day,” said Carlos Aramayo, president of Unite Here Local 26, which represents Massachusetts hospitality workers. “It’s about the people who work for a living, who create the value in our economy.”

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The candidates spoke in support of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, legislation Democrats have proposed in Congress to expand protections for workers who act collectively. They touted policies they said would improve workers’ quality of life, such as expansions in the child care, health care, pension, and public transit systems. And all denounced the hiring practices at Marriott Copley Place.

Mayoral candidate City Councilor Michelle Wu poses for a photo with Scott Page of Boston at the Labor Day event.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

“Marriott Copley has a long track record of throwing workers under the bus,” said City Councilor Michelle Wu, who has taken a lead in the race, according to recent polls.

The second-largest hotel in Boston laid off 230 workers last September without offering staff the chance to eventually return. Instead, supporters of the laid-off workers allege the corporation hires out-of-state contractors paid illegally low wages and misclassifies workers to avoid paying taxes.

Marriott Copley general manger Alan Smith did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wu said her campaign has not spent a dime at the hotel as part of advocates’ movement to boycott Marriott.

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The candidate, a four-time city councilor at-large, also emphasized her commitment to hold big tech companies accountable to labor laws. “Uber, Lyft, Instacart — they are trying to make sure they are not going to pay fair wages,” she said. “I will use every lever of power in the city government to make sure all our workers have the protections they need.”

During the Labor Day event, voters positioned themselves around the intersection in shirts endorsing Wu and the three other women of color vying to be the next mayor, who appear locked in a fight for the second slot in the Nov. 2 general election, so long as Wu’s polling lead holds.

The top two finishers in the Sept. 14 preliminary will face off in the general election.

Acting Mayor Kim Janey marched with union members after speaking at the rally. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Kim Janey, the acting mayor since March, highlighted her efforts following former mayor Martin J. Walsh’s departure to join President Biden’s Cabinet. She said she pledged her support to the labor movement and met with hotel workers at the start of her tenure.

In the midst of the pandemic, Janey added that she “made sure all our policies were centered around working families in Boston.” Her efforts earned her the endorsement of SEIU Local 888 and 32BJ SEIU, which represent government employees and service workers respectively, in July.

“Boston works best when Boston works together,” Janey said.

A three-time city councilor at large, Annissa Essaibi George echoed support of former Marriott workers and encouraged people to also stand with the nurses striking at Worcester’s St. Vincent Hospital.

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She drew on the experience of her father, an immigrant who worked as a security guard at Boston University. He was “a Muslim man trying to make a home in this city” and a “proud union member,” she said.

If elected mayor, Essaibi George intends to carry forward those principles, she told the crowd. She said, “at its core, we want to build happy and healthy lives for our community.”

BOSTON, 9/6/2021 - Mayoral candidate City Councilor Andrea Campbell, left, and Sen. Ed Markey, at a Labor Day event outside Marriott Copley Place. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Candidate Andrea Campbell, also a city councilor, brought attention to the enduring inequality in what she dubbed the “city of two Bostons.”

She compared the opportunities afforded to her to those given to her twin brother, Andre. She shared how Andre followed the school-to-prison pipeline and died in custody at 29.

“This is the city that took a poor girl from Roxbury, torn apart by incarceration, and gave me everything I would need to be successful: good schools, good jobs, health care, elders, and mentors,” Campbell said. “Sadly, this is a city that can also fail you.”

In an ideal world where Campbell has the money and is “Oprah Winfrey,” she said she would give workers — especially immigrants — a paid week off to show Boston how, without them, the city “falls to its knees.”

John Barros, who has consistently trailed the other four major candidates in polls, stressed how strong unions are the foundation of community growth.

He helped bring 140,000 jobs to the city as the former chief of economic development, he said, and understands the worker experience firsthand. Several of his family members work in hotels.

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“Unions have helped people climb out of poverty and into the middle class,” Barros said.

He finished his speech with a rallying cry: “Every day in Boston is Labor Day.”

Mayoral candidate John Barros addressed union members during his speech at the Labor Day rally. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Congressional leaders — Senator Edward J. Markey, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Ayanna Pressley — spoke about the ties between the labor movement and federal progressive policies. Among them are a $15 minimum wage, reimagined criminal justice system, Medicare for All, an infrastructure package, and the efforts to strengthen voting protections.

The crowd marched by the entrance of Marriott Copley at the rally’s end, urging guests to “check out.” Demonstrators eventually landed in Copley Square for a barbecue.

Darlene Lombos, the rally organizer and executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, added that, in the end, the burden of change falls on the workforce — not the mayor.

She said, “No matter who prevails in November, the labor movement will be here.”

Mayoral candidate City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George after speaking at the Labor Day rally. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Diti Kohli can be reached at diti.kohli@globe.com. Follow her @ditikohli_.