Marriott Corp. "came home to Washington" yesterday, but Mayor Marion Barry was not there to greet the Bethesda company when it opened its first hotel in the District of Columbia.
The mayor apparently stayed away from the lavish opening ceremonies for the Washington Marriott to avoid a confrontation with 50 labor-union demonstrators who marched and shouted outside the hotel at 22nd and M streets NW.
Like most Mariott hotels, the newest is operated by the company but owned by a private investor -- in this case Washington restaurateur Ulysses "Blackie" Auger. The 350-room hotel is built around his flagship eatery, Blackie's House of Beef.
The demonstration was staged by the metropolitan Washinton Council of the Food and Allied Service Traded of the AFL-CIO, to protest what the group called "antiworker attitudes" of both Marriott and Auger.
Ron Richardson, president of Hotel and Restaurant Union Local 25, said his union is not trying to organize workers at the new hotel -- "we just want to make sure that everyone understands what kind of company this is.
Richardson called Mariott and Blackie's "two of the biggest and two of the worst employers in Washington." Other demonstrators carried signs assusing the hotel owners of racism and sexism.
Marriott Corp. President J.W. Marriott Jr. responded directly to the union complaints in his speech to several hundred guests, noting that 65 percent of Marriott's employees in the District are black, 33 percent of District Marriott managers are black and 28 percent of D.C. managers are women.
"Our company is a company that believes in fair treatment and equal opportunity for all our employees," Marriott said. In an interview he said Marriott employes never have asked for union representation because "our people are happy and that's important in the hospitality business.When your people are happy, your customers are happy."
Marriott said the opening was "like a family reunion" for the company, which was founded by his father and mother as a 14th Street root beer stand.
Auger noted that the first Marriott restaurant started with a lunch counter and nine stools. When he and his wife, Lou, opened their first cafe, "We only had five -- we've had a lot of catching up to do," joked Auger, whose restaurant enterprises now serve more sit-down meals than and in Washington except Marriott.