You Made It. Now Sleep in It. 

Tired of wrestling with bigger comforters and heavier mattresses,

Oakland's housekeepers aren't gonna take it lying down.

War is hell. Few people know this better than housekeepers. Carmen Rodriguez has made beds at the Oakland Marriott for sixteen years. For most of that time she has liked her job; she felt good about it. And then September 11 happened, and the hotel industry suffered.

For large hotel chains such as Marriott, September 11 was like a bomb going off. The company quickly needed to do something to woo back its customers. Officials at Marriott decided to emphasize their beds. Specifically, fluffier mattress pads, softer sheets, more pillows, and deluxe duvet covers. It invested in all these things in a bid to win more customers.

With that investment, Marriott entered a second type of war, a war provoked by war, a war unnoticed by most Americans. September 11 launched the Bed Wars.

Earlier this year, Travel and Leisure magazine reported on the worldwide outbreak of this conflict. The report depicted an out-of-control arms race among the nation's leading hoteliers, each trying to outdo the others.

First, the Westin chain debuted its "Heavenly Bed" program, in which it outfitted its entire fleet of sleepers with three-hundred-thread-count sheets. Radisson responded with an inflatable mattress powered by the customer's remote control. Hilton was next; it advertised that it had "upgraded" all of its beds.

It was only a matter of time before Marriott waged its campaign, which revolved around a bedding system that it took to calling the Revive. In promotional literature, the Revive was described as "Creating More Luxurious Bedding With Plusher Mattresses, Softer Sheets, More Pillows, and a New, Fresh, White Look."

Six weeks ago, the first Revive arrived at Oakland's Marriott. Rodriguez and her housekeeper peers were suspicious of the new arrival. They gathered to watch a fifteen-minute instructional video on how to make the new thing. And that's when they first learned just how much they despised it.

It used to take Rodriguez seven minutes to strip and turn the old sleepers, she said. Now it takes up to fifteen. She struggles with the new duvet cover. She wrestles with the mattress pad. She fights with the six -- count 'em, six -- pillows required for the new model. And still she has only thirty minutes to turn a room.

Rodriguez said the demands of preparing these plush new beds are forcing her to work in pain. "It's like a stabbing pain," she said of the sensation. "It comes through my shoulder and goes down to my fingers. I cannot take it anymore."

And that is why, on a cold and windy Friday night in downtown Oakland, Rodriguez and about thirty colleagues met on a corner across the street from the Marriott and said "no" to war and yes to dissent.


From across the street, Marriott general manager Mark Everton took a look at the housekeepers who'd gathered to rally against the pain that he, presumably, had helped to cause. Everton had his own take on the employees' motives. They belonged to the Unite Here Local 2850, and they are in the middle of negotiating a new contract with hotel management.

"It's an opportunity for the union to rally their troops," Everton said, keeping an above-the-fray perspective. "I understand the need for this to occur. ... Still, it's our hope to conclude negotiations with the union by the end of the year."

Like most field generals, Everton was well aware of the argument against his mission. He knew the Revive presented a new challenge for his housekeepers, but he also disputed their claims that it meant more work. Since the changes to the Marriott's bedding were actually changes to the stuff on top of the beds -- the mattress and box frame remained the same, he noted -- it was just a matter of housekeepers redefining their skill set on how to make a bed.

Everton said that he believes the Revive should not take housekeepers any longer to change than the old bedding. Because the sheets on the Revive are fitted, and those on the old system were not, he believes the posh new bedding should be no more difficult for housekeepers. "In our case," he asserted, "it's actually less work for the housekeeper than it was before."


Back at the rally, union organizer Marcos Escobar shouted through a bullhorn: "Hey hey, ho ho, Marriott beds have got to go." The group had brought along a blue inflatable mattress to represent the cursed Revive. Two guys in brown Teamsters windbreakers lifted the mattress above their heads as if it were a captured prisoner and marched north on Broadway toward City Hall.

A single white bedsheet clung to the inflatable mattress, and as the wind kicked up, the two men fought with their prisoner and its clothing as it tried to get away. The line of housekeepers who followed shook noisemakers and blew whistles and pumped their fists in the air. Every passing car that honked its horn caused a burst of euphoria. Perhaps this war could be won.

Escobar had given reporters a survey of 941 Las Vegas housekeepers that claimed that three out of four housekeepers work in severe pain. The study was conducted by a team of researchers that included UCSF associate professor Dr. Niklas Krause. But as studies go, it wasn't entirely unbiased either. It was commissioned by a hotel employees' union, taken at a union hall, and administered by college students and other housekeepers from nonparticipating hotels.

"Hey hey, ho ho," the organizer chanted through his bullhorn, "Marriott's dirty laundry has got to go."

The conga line reached the plaza in front of City Hall and the two Teamsters dumped their prisoner on the concrete as if it were a corpse.

Housekeeper Melody Li was handed a bed sheet, a comforter, a duvet cover, and a bag of pillows. She was going to show all those who'd assembled just how painful it is to make the Revive.

Li shook out the bed sheet as another organizer shouted through his bullhorn, "She makes 3,900 beds a year. Her body is abused."

The crowd booed.

The organizer, who had an Andrew "Dice" Clay delivery style, took it up a notch. "You have to make it all fluffy, don't you, so the customer can have a good night's sleep."

The crowd hissed.

Ah, the customer. The one soldier in this war who, like weapons of mass destruction, is more feared than seen. The supposed needs of the customer were the root cause of this entire problem. If only customers stopped coming to the Marriott, then perhaps there would be no need for the escalating bed war. Then again, if customers stopped coming to the Marriott, maybe no one would have a job.

Li punched the comforter into the duvet cover. She stopped at one point so another organizer could tape a large sticker on her shoulder blade that read "OUCH!" The "ouch stickers," as the organizers called them, were meant to show the crowd where Li felt the pain.

But the wind was too strong. The stickers didn't stick. They blew away into the cold Oakland night.

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