Hundreds of union members marched through Boston Monday afternoon in a thunderous Labor Day demonstration with workers and advocates banging on overturned buckets, blowing whistles, and chanting demands for equitable treatment for service industry employees.
The march culminated in a rain-soaked rally in front of the Hyatt Centric Faneuil Hall hotel on Devonshire Street, where workers voted to unionize more than a year ago and have been trying ever since to negotiate a contract with higher wages and lower health insurance costs, according to organizers with Unite Here Local 26, which represents workers in the hospitality industries of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The march and rally followed the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston, where Vice President Kamala Harris spoke before a packed ballroom of about 1,000 people and touted the Biden administration’s support for workers.
Rain began to fall as the marchers stepped off from the corner of Arlington and Boylston streets near the Public Garden heading to the Hyatt Centric, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of participants, many wearing clear plastic ponchos that had been handed out by organizers.
Devonshire Street was jam-packed with members of Local 26 and SEIU 32BJ, a union representing service workers in several northeastern states, as labor leaders and elected officials took turns speaking into a microphone, just a few yards from the front doors of the Hyatt.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston fired up the crowd with chants of “The people, united, will never be defeated!” and recalled her six years working in a hotel and feeling looked down upon by the guests she served.
“As a Black woman who worked in the service industry, I know what it is when people look past you and through you like you’re invisible,” she told the crowd from beneath a canopy of umbrellas held by people surrounding her. “It’s because of this movement that they see us now and they hear us now.”
Pressley’s words resonated with hotel workers at the Hyatt Centric, who said they are trying to have their wages increased by a few dollars to be in line with similar union jobs at other hotels in the city.
“More than anything, what we want is for them to respect us,” Blanca Murcia, a Revere resident and room attendant at the Hyatt Centric, told a Globe reporter, speaking Spanish through a translator.
Between 25 and 30 workers at the hotel are members of the union, according to Carlos Aramayo, president of Local 26. The group had picketed outside the hotel twice during the summer, he said.
It’s difficult to persuade people to come together to form a union, he said, and “it’s even harder to get a contract.”
Pressley’s turn at the microphone followed remarks from Representatives Katherine Clark of Revere and Jake Auchincloss of Newton, who both praised the Biden administration’s work in supporting labor and highlighted the bipartisan infrastructure bill the president signed into law last year.
“There is no building the economy and our infrastructure without organized labor,” Auchincloss said. “Today is about the dignity of work and ensuring everybody has the ability to participate in our economy.”
Roxana Rivera, executive vice president of SEIU 32BJ, said in a brief interview that the union is trying to organize workers at Logan International Airport, where employees of the aviation company Swissport International say wages are too low and workers are spread too thin.
Gabriel Gomez works for Swissport as a cabin cleaner and said this summer has been especially difficult with stifling conditions inside the planes and not enough time between tasks to get a drink of water.
“They need to hire more workers,” Gomez said, speaking to a Globe reporter in Spanish through a translator. “They have to be a little more dedicated to protecting workers and making sure we can do our jobs adequately.”
Messages sent to Hyatt and Swissport seeking comment were not returned.
Solidarity was the main theme on Monday, Rivera said, as workers from service jobs, including people who clean hotel rooms and airplanes, waiters and baristas, and State House aides, came together for the march.
“It’s an important message for Labor Day for workers to understand that they’re not alone, no matter where they come from or what they do,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure that they’re seen today.”
US Senator Edward J. Markey provided the coda on the rally by reflecting on the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on communities of workers.
“During the pandemic, Black and brown [people] in immigrant families, they had to show up every single day because they were essential workers, [while] white-collar workers ‘Zoomed’ to work, ” Markey told the crowd. “Let’s make sure we get the rights that every one of these workers is entitled to.”