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Hotel execs call for immigration reform

Bill Marriott

KAI RYSSDAL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning a vote on the latest immigration reform plan tomorrow. The outcome is still up in the air. So supporters and opponents of all the various proposals are taking the opportunity to make their opinions heard, including the hotel industry.

CEOs of six big hotel chains have written an open letter to Congress demanding action now. One of them is Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International. Mr. Marriott, good to have you with us.

BILL MARRIOTT: Thank you. Good talking to you.

RYSSDAL: Why did you feel the need to write this letter?

MARRIOTT: Well, we are very concerned about the immigration problem we have in the country today. We think that something needs to be done just as soon as possible. We're seeing that states and local governments are passing laws regulating immigration and there's going to be a very confusing patchwork of different laws around the country. And we operate in all 50 states and most state capitals. And we really need to get a comprehensive immigration law that we can all abide by and operate by.

RYSSDAL: All right, sir. So if you could write the bill that Congress would consider, what would it say?

MARRIOTT: We are not in favor of amnesty. We do believe that there has to be a pathway to citizenship. However, there certainly has to be some sort of a penalty or some sort of process going here where people can become citizens who come into our country to work. We need these workers. We have a shortage today of hourly workers come into our hotels. We are very short. We opened a new hotel a few months ago and we couldn't even open all rooms because we didn't have enough people to clean the rooms. And so our need for workers from countries abroad is extremely, extremely high.

RYSSDAL: You've written to members of Congress, you've written to members of the President's cabinet. Have you talked to organized labor at all in this country about their feelings on this?

MARRIOTT: No. I have not.

RYSSDAL: Why not?

MARRIOTT: I simply don't believe that that's necessary. I think right now that they're not writing the laws. It's the legislators who are writing the laws, and we haven't really had any discussions with organized labor.

RYSSDAL: But it's an inherently political process, sir, as I'm sure you understand . . .

MARRIOTT: It's a political process, but it's not a labor union process. This is a congressional, a government process to make sure that there's a pathway for people to remain employed when they come to this country and apply for citizenship and have a path to citizenship.

RYSSDAL: What's your hope that this is actually gonna get done? Are you confident of an immigration bill?

MARRIOTT: I am reasonably confident. That seems to have pretty strong support. I think there's some people who want to tweak the bill to make it very, very hard for immigrant workers to establish themselves in this country. And I think that's a mistake because we need these workers.

RYSSDAL: What's at stake if you don't get the workers, Mr. Marriott?

MARRIOTT: If we don't get the workers, the growth in the hospitality industry, the restaurant industry is going to slow markedly. And I think it could cause labor costs in this country to escalate tremendously. We can have runaway inflation and we could, at the same time, have a recession. We could have the worst of all worlds on the economic front.

RYSSDAL: Bill Marriott is the chairman and CEO of Marriott International. Mr. Marriott, thanks a lot for your time.

MARRIOTT: Thank you.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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