Hurts So Good
The four-year battle for better working conditions at the Hyatt Hotel chain may be drawing to an amicable close. Last Monday, UNITE HERE, the hotel workers’ union behind a global boycott and press campaign on Hyatt’s anti-union and anti-worker practices, announced a tentative accord with the hotel giant. Though details on the deal are scant, the agreement will provide for new union contracts in four cities which will give about 3,000 workers four percent in wage and benefit increases through 2018. The agreement also makes it easier for Hyatt workers to unionize and requires UNITE HERE to roll back its boycott of the chain.
UNITE HERE focused on labor practices at the chain as the motivation for their Hyatt Hurts! campaign. The union rallied around the “Hyatt 100”, referring to the 2009 layoff of 98 employees, when the Hyatt Regency Boston contracted with a temp agency for housekeeping services. A clergy report on conditions at Hyatt detailed the stark difference between union and temporary housekeeping jobs:
“Many of the fired [Boston] housekeepers had worked for Hyatt for over 20 years. Many were required to train their replacements before being fired, being told that their trainees were vacation replacements. Before being fired, the housekeepers had made about $15 an hour plus benefits and cleaned 16 rooms a day. Housekeepers at Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS) start at the minimum wage of $8.00 per hour.”
Furthermore, the continuous worker actions related to the boycott sought to bring the hidden work of housekeepers out into the open. The campaign kept an unflinching eye on long-term effects of the backbreaking work of housekeepers. Sandra Miranda, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in Los Angeles, spoke on the campaign’s role in bringing “invisible” workers together:
“At the Hyatt Andaz, we keep the doors closed when we clean… If I slip on a wet bathroom floor, no one sees… today, we are no longer invisible. We are picketing and speaking out about the strain housekeeping takes on our bodies. “
80,000 supporters Voted Hyatt Worst in an online campaign publicized by UNITE HERE. 5,000 organizations supported the boycott. The usual progressive suspects spoke out in support of the workers and the campaign also gained solidarity from the NFL Players’ Association. Hyatt management provided the campaign ample fodder for bad publicity. In 2011, management at Chicago’s Park Hyatt Chicago turned a heat lamp on striking workers in mid-July. Victoria Guillen, a dishwasher at Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, stated she was nearly fired after refusing to report to work three days after undergoing a cesarean section operation.
Once ratified, the agreement will install new union contracts for nine locations in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago. UNITE HERE had previously demanded that Hyatt workers be able to organize using the “card check” method. A compromise between the two parties will instead allow for secret ballot elections carried out by a third-party administrator. The hotel chain has also agreed to maintain neutrality on future organizing drives, in light of previous reports of intimidation, surveillance and firings. UNITE HERE President D. Taylor issued the following statement on the deal:
“We look forward to a new collaborative relationship with Hyatt. This agreement shows that when workers across the hotel industry stand together, they can move forward, even in a tough economy. Both organizations deserve credit for working out this constructive step forward.”
The news is also well-timed to relieve recently confirmed Commerce Secretary and Hyatt Heir/Board Member Penny Pritzker from political pressure related to the labor struggle. In late May, Chicago Hyatt workers took to the streets to protest Pritzker’s confirmation hearings. In Senate Chambers, however, the sole voice of dissent was the independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders. Pritzker was confirmed by a vote of 97 to (Sanders’) 1. Following Pritzker’s confirmation on June 25th, Sanders addressed the role of the President’s liaison to business:
“We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of C.E.O.’s and large corporations. Workers at Hyatt have been unjustly fired for trying to form a union to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits. Unfortunately, Ms. Pritzker chose not to defend those employees.”
Pritzker reportedly resigned from the Hyatt Board of Directors shortly following confirmation. UNITE HERE is running a campaign to install a worker in her place. There are many fences to mend between the company and union after the four-year fight – inviting a worker to the table as more employees vie for union contracts will indicate the hotel’s commitment to a brighter future.