(NEW YORK) MintPress — The dispute over working conditions between employees of Hyatt Hotels and the Chicago-based hotel chain has lasted for years, but now, a broad coalition of labor unions and progressive groups have upped the ante with this week’s launch of a global boycott. It “marks the largest escalation to date in an ongoing […]
(NEW YORK) MintPress — The dispute over working conditions between employees of Hyatt Hotels and the Chicago-based hotel chain has lasted for years, but now, a broad coalition of labor unions and progressive groups have upped the ante with this week’s launch of a global boycott.
It “marks the largest escalation to date in an ongoing campaign for basic workers rights,” the organizers said in a press release. “Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry by abusing its housekeepers and other hotel workers, replacing long-time employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous and health-threatening workloads on those who remain.”
Leaders from the NFL Players Association, the National Organization of Women, the AFL-CIO, Netroots Nation, Interfaith Worker Justice and UNITE HERE, the country’s biggest hospitality workers’ union, were among those who joined Hyatt housekeepers in Washington, D.C. to announce the launch, and more than 5,000 organizations and individuals have pledged to honor the boycott.
There are also plans for demonstrations at Hyatt Hotels in 20 cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as a major social media campaign to “Vote Hyatt the Worst Hotel Employer in America.” Supporters, such as Tom Morello, MoveON.org, American Rights at Work and the United Farmworkers Union, are calling on more than two million people to vote online.
“Hyatt systematically abuses housekeepers and other hotel workers, and it is unacceptable in 2012 that women endure debilitating injuries as a result of the work they do cleaning rooms,” said UNITE HERE president John Wilhelm. “We call on Hyatt to … adopt the recommendations made by the federal government to reduce the physical strain associated with housekeeping work.”
List of grievances
One of the main charges by organizers of the boycott is that the Hyatt’s “aggressive subcontracting practices” is destroying good jobs and exploiting immigrant workers.
On the website Hyatt Hurts, they cite the case of the so-called “Hyatt 100” in August 2009, when Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels in the Boston area, replacing women who had worked for the company for decades with workers from a temporary agency. Many of the fired workers were required to train their replacements, who then earned minimum wage, cleaned as many as 30 rooms a day and did not receive health insurance.
Another complaint: Hyatt housekeepers are dangerously overworked and suffer abuse. A study examining 50 hotel properties from five different companies and published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found housekeepers at the Hyatt had the highest injury rate.
In 2011, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and its state counterparts issued 18 citations against the Hyatt at 11 hotels, and three citations against one of its subcontractors at one of those hotels, alleging violations of various safety regulations that protect housekeepers and other employees and proposed more than $100,000 in penalties.
Also last year, Hyatt took the lead in opposing a bill to end “on our knees” bathroom cleaning and backbreaking bed-making practices.
Finally, organizers maintain that Hyatt has refused to remain neutral as non-union hotel workers organize. In Indianapolis, Long Beach, San Antonio, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Scottsdale, employees have called on Hyatt to accept a process to allow them to choose whether or not to join a union without employer intimidation, but Hyatt has refused, they say.
“Workers in non-union facilities complain of disrespect from their management, low wages, unaffordable health insurance and high room quotas for room cleaners,” said a posting on Hyatt Hurts.
Hyatt hits back
Commenting on the boycott, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources, Doug Patrick, accused the union of having ulterior motives. “The UNITE HERE campaign is not about creating a better workplace at our hotels, but is an attempt to boost union membership by organizing associates at non-union Hyatt hotels through a non-democratic and intimidating process,” he asserted.
“Hyatt provides industry-leading wage and benefits packages, maintains an outstanding workplace safety record and is a recognized leader in promoting a diverse workforce,” Patrick continued.
On Monday, Hyatt ran a full page ad in The Washington Post titled, “Standing Up for the Rights of Our Hyatt Associates.” “We’re very proud that Hyatt hotels are great places to work. An that’s not just our opinion,” it said before listing recent awards and honors, including one from CareerBliss naming Hyatt the happiest hotel company.
Several Hyatt employees have told their own accounts of working there in a section called Meet the Workers on Hyatt Hurts.
Martha Reyes’ story has already made its rounds in the press. Reyes, who worked at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara until last October, recalled, “I came into work one day and saw men laughing at pictures on the wall. Someone had posted images of housekeepers’ faces attached to the bodies of women wearing bikinis. I was so embarrassed. For me this is no joke. I take my job very seriously, and all I ask is to be treated with respect. Instead, Hyatt fired me and my sister for objecting to the demeaning photos, and now I may lose my home.”
Bertha Castro, who has worked as a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood for 28 years, revealed, “Recently, I asked my manager for permission to take a few days off to visit my brother, who was gravely ill in a hospital in Ensenada, Mexico. Hyatt told me to prove it. My manager demanded I present a doctor’s note that said my presence was urgent, and until I could do so, my request for time was refused. A few days later my brother passed away. I didn’t get to say goodbye.”
And many had experiences similar to that of Claudette Evans, who has been working at the Hyatt Regency Chicago for 13 years.
“Just two weeks ago my coworker hurt his back at work, putting him on light duty,” she explained. “This means I have to do my work and his because Hyatt does not offer us anymore help. Now, I’m feeling overworked, stressed and in pain. I am not the only one feeling pain and stress from work. A lot of my co-workers have to carry pain medication around with them every day. We’re all in pain.”