San Francisco hotel workers and janitors march on May Day for better pay, healthcare

As part of annual demonstrations on May 1 or International Workers' Day, hundreds of hotel workers and janitors marched through Union Square and Downtown San Francisco demanding better pay and working conditions.

Unionized workers are looking to secure better contracts for the first time since 2019. Now, they want big pay raises, lighter workloads, and better health care benefits.

They chanted and held signs that read "One Job Should Be Enough" and "Justice for Janitors."

They marched through the streets, making stops at several major hotels, including the Hilton in Union Square.

"We rely on the credit card," said Celeste Sagum, a lobby porter at the Grand Hyatt at SFO. "If I rely on my salary, it's not enough. I get my salary just to pay credit card."

Sagum is married with three children. She said she takes home just under $3,000 a month, and she's not left with much after paying $2,500 in rent.

"I feel sad, we work too hard, we are hard workers," she said. "They cut people, and they give you more tasks, and it's not fair."


Bay Area May Day rallies show support for workers, Palestinians

People around the Bay Area held demonstrations on May 1, a traditional protest day, where workers rallied for immigrant rights, and also to stand in solidarity with Palestinians overseas.

Hotel workers from UNITE HERE Local 2 and janitors with SEIU Local 87 represent some 15,000 people whose contracts are set to expire in August. May Day comes as the city deals with a slow recovery from the pandemic, and fewer business travelers and conventions.

"As a banquet worker, we have it better than some; a lot of the housekeeping, after the pandemic, they haven't come back to how it used to be," said banquet server Mary McDonald. "They're making record profits, and they're just not giving us security."

For the last 20 years, McDonald has worked at several major hotel chains.

"Most of these companies whether it's the Hilton, the Marriott, Four Seasons, all of them are international corporations. Even a lot of the property owners in this building, are international investment, venture capital, equity firms," said San Francisco mayoral candidate and current supervisor Ahsha Safai. "They have the money to sustain during a downturn."

Safai said the board has been called in previously to help both sides get to the finish line during negotiations.  

"We need to stand up for working families. A lot of them are immigrants doing work that most people don't want to do," he said. "As an immigrant myself that cares about working people, this to me is a very important day for San Francisco."

"San Francisco’s hospitality community is grappling with unparalleled challenges: reduced visitor numbers compared to pre-pandemic times, soaring interest rates, rampant inflation affecting both workers and businesses, and substantial spikes in energy and insurance expenses…The decrease in visitors has led to fewer shifts for workers. In the immediate future, we must make tough decisions to sustain the industry," said Alex Bastian, president and CEO of the Hotel Council of San Francisco. "By approaching this year with objectivity and unity, we can overcome these unprecedented obstacles, ensuring our community's survival…Making the right collective decisions now will yield significant long-term benefits for our workers, community, and the city as a whole." 

San Francisco has yet to see tourism and spending return to pre-pandemic levels, despite seeing a boost in 2023 over the previous year, according to SF Travel.