PHILADELPHIA – Hourly Marriott workers in Philadelphia are in the midst of a lawsuit against the Marriott Employees Federal Credit Union, saying the credit union's $500 mini-loans are predatory and lack transparency on their true cost.
The suit was filed on behalf of housekeeper Katherine Payne and busser Arthur Coates, both of whom work at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown in Center City, but seeks to include all Pennsylvania workers that have used the mini-loans. Payne and Coates are part of a group of workers at the Marriott Downtown seeking to unionize with Unite Here.
"By providing employees with quick cash when needed and indebting them to their employer, the mini-loan allows the Marriott to retain its workforce even while subjecting workers to unfair and unpredictable scheduling," the lawsuit reads.
As of September 2018, the lawsuit says, the credit union had assets worth about $192 million, and nearly 32,500 members nationwide. The credit union mini-loans are offered through Marriott's local human resources offices.
To be eligible for the mini-loan, workers must agree to a direct deposit of a minimum of $33 weekly from their wages to their credit union account before the loan is granted. An additional $10 per pay week is held from the paycheck, which goes into an account that the credit union keeps as collateral security until the loan is paid off, according to the lawsuit.
It's a case that ties together two major topics facing workers.
Payne, who has worked at the Marriott for eight years, and Coates turned to the mini-loans when their hours were cut, the lawsuit says. It's a scheduling problem that causes them to make less money, even if their hourly rates are higher than the $15 per hour that advocates are fighting for around the country.
Lekesha Wheelings, a chef at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown who has also used the loans, made $39,500 in 2017, down from nearly $45,000 in 2016.
Retail workers and fast-food workers also face inconsistent scheduling. It's why advocates fought for the Fair Workweek law that mandates more predictable hours and will be implemented in 2020.
A majority of Americans would have trouble coming up with $1,000 to cover an emergency, a phenomenon some experts have dubbed "the $1,000 problem." It was an issue that was front and center when federal workers were forced to turn to food pantries and loans because they missed a paycheck during the government shutdown.
There's nothing inherently problematic with an employer offering benefits to tackle cash-flow problems, said Rebecca Borné, senior policy counsel for the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending based, in Durham, N.C, but what is concerning about the Marriott situation is how the credit union's $35 overdraft fees can interact with the mini-loans to keep workers in a cycle of debt. Wheelings, for example, got hit with $450 worth of overdraft fees in 2014 while she was paying back a mini-loan.
The credit union did not respond to a request for comment. Marriott did not have any comment on the suit but said the credit union is continuing to assess its products and services, in accordance with the hotel company's request.