How the New York Yankees became the focus of a Boston hotel workers strike

Several players walked through a picket line, and now even some Yankees fans are calling out the team.

Hotel workers on strike rally Friday afternoon outside the Ritz-Carlton in Boston after members of the New York Yankees walk through their picket line to stay at the hotel Thursday.
Hotel workers on strike rally Friday afternoon outside the Ritz-Carlton in Boston after members of the New York Yankees walk through their picket line to stay at the hotel Thursday. –Nik DeCosta-Klipa / Boston.com

As if the New York Yankees could get even less popular in Boston.

Before facing off against the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Friday night at Fenway Park, the Yankees found themselves the target of heated protests Friday. And it had nothing to do with the team’s historic on-field rivalry with the hometown team.

These particular “Yankees Suck” chants came after the team’s players walked through the picket line of striking hotel workers to get into the Ritz-Carlton they’re staying at in downtown Boston. Bring Lang, the president of Unite Here Local 26, which represents the striking Boston hotel workers, called the Yankees, members of their own MLB players’ union, “scabs.”

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“They crossed our picket line, but we are going to send them a loud message,” Lang told protesters Friday, ahead of a planned 3 p.m. protest outside the Ritz-Carlton.

The hotel workers strike began Wednesday morning and involves 1,500 workers at seven local Marriott hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton Boston, Sheraton Boston, and Westin Copley Place, timed to disrupt Columbus Day weekend service. United Here 26 workers voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize the strike, after months of unsuccessful negotiations for more worker protections and “an equal seat at the table” as technological advances roil the industry.

As The Boston Globe reported earlier this week, United Here 26 represents workers at more than 30 hotels in the Boston area, but they are focusing the strike on Marriott, the largest hotel company in both the city and the world. While thousands have since joined the Marriott strikes in cities across the country, Boston hotel workers were the first to walk off the job Wednesday.

And then the Yankees came to town.

In a video obtained by Boston magazine’s Spencer Buell, several players, including outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher Dellin Betances, are seen arriving Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton, unpacking their luggage, and navigating their way into the hotel past workers picketing and chanting, “Don’t check in! Check out!”

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Union members were a little more than incensed; Lang has alternatively described the Yankees’ actions as both a “slap in the face” and “spitting in the face” of working people in Boston.

“They didn’t go in some back door — they went right through the front door, through the picket line, and blew by the people who are fighting for their lives,” Lang later told the Globe. “They acted just like an elite business person as they walked through the picket line.”

The Yankees did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. However, a source close to the team told the New York Daily News that the reservations at the Ritz-Carlton were made before the hotel workers went on strike Wednesday morning and that there were no other alternatives to book the 90 rooms they needed. The Yankees advanced to the ALDS after winning the AL Wild Card Game, which was played Wednesday night.

“They kind of had no choice but to do it,” the source said.

Still, Bostonians weren’t the only ones dismayed. The Yankees also earned rebukes from their own fans, including Mario Cilento, the president of the New York State AFL-CIO.

“As a lifelong Yankee fan and a proud New Yorker, I am disgusted the management of a team representing the strongest union town in America would choose a hotel where workers are on strike,” Cilento said in a statement Thursday night. “Make no mistake, despite the Yankee organization’s callous decision to cross a picket line, New York’s labor movement stands in solidarity with the strikers and supports all working men and women across the country fighting for fairness and dignity at their jobs.”

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The MLB Players Association, which collectively bargains for players on the Yankees, Red Sox, and the league’s other 28 teams, also weighed in, calling for the Boston hotel strike to be respected.

“From what we understand, these workers have been trying to negotiate a fair contract for more than six months,” the union said in a statement. “They deserve to be heard and deserve our support.”

With signs reading “Yankees = Scabs” and “One Job Should Be Enough,” a few hundred hotel workers rallied Friday afternoon in front of the Ritz-Carlton, as promised. In an interview, Lang explained that they’re trying to bargain for a contract that pays workers enough so they don’t have to take a second job to live in Boston and to be able to retire “with some dignity.”

“It’s not asking a lot, particularly from a corporation that’s worth over $50 billion,” Lang said, adding that the Yankees have shown whose side they’re on.

“What the New York Yankees have said, they’ve basically said by their actions that they’re the team of corporate greed,” he said. “And they’re playing the Red Sox, our Red Sox, who are the team of the working people of Boston. So we have one word for the Yankees, and that’s ‘We hope the Red Sox kick your ass today.'”

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