UNITE HERE’s day of action shines light on hotel chain’s abuses

Vowing not to suffer in silence, Hyatt housekeepers, other Hyatt workers, and their supporters on July 21 staged a day of action in nine cities in the US to call attention to the lack of job safety at Hyatt hotels and to protest the company’s cost-cutting business strategy that eliminates jobs of veteran Hyatt employees and replaces them with temporary, minimum wage staff.

“Hyatt abuses housekeepers,” said Ofelia Martinez, a housekeeper at the Park Hyatt hotel in downtown Chicago. “They are hoping we will suffer in silence, but today housekeepers are standing up across the nation.”

The day of action was called by UNITE HERE, the union that represents the Hyatt workers and is trying to organize more hotel workers across the country.

Citing a peer-reviewed article that appeared last year  in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, UNITE HERE said that hotel workers have an injury rate that is 25 percent higher than other service industry workers and that among hotels studied by the authors of article, Hyatt had the highest rate of worker injuries.

Although most of us don’t realize it, housekeepers’ work is hard. In each room, housekeepers lift heavy mattresses to make beds and bend and stoop to clean toilets, bathtubs, and fixtures. Additionally, they push heavy cleaning carts over carpeted floors. What’s more, there’s always pressure from management to do more work faster. Some Hyatt housekeepers are required to clean 30 rooms a day nearly double what is usually required in the industry.

Some of those participating in the day of action staged acts of civil disobedience. In San Antonio, where Hyatt workers are trying to win union recognition, ten of the 200 demonstrators in front of the Grand Hyatt were arrested after they sat down and joined hands to block traffic on downtown Market Street.

In San Francisco, about 80 people were cited by police for blocking traffic near the Grand Hyatt during a demonstration to protest Hyatt’s abuse of its workers. Demonstrators chanted, “Hyatt, stop the abuse! San Francisco is a union town!” and carried signs reading, “Workers are not linen.” UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents workers at the Grand Hyatt, also charged the hotel with replacing long-time Hyatt workers with temporary workers and increasing workloads beyond what can be done safely.

Local 2 and Hyatt have been involved in contract negotiations since 2009. The lack of progress has led Local 2 to call for a boycott of Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt Regency Embarcadero and the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. UNITE HERE has called for other boycotts at selected Hyatt hotels across the US for practices similar to those at the Grand Hyatt.

In Chicago, members of UNITE HERE Local 1 at the Park Hyatt on Michigan Avenue staged a one-day strike to protest lack of progress in contract negotiations that began nearly two years ago. While Hyatt says that it is prepared to give its workers the same contract that other hotel workers in the Chicago area have, it insists that it be allowed to outsource some of the work, now done by union members.

“If they replace me, it doesn’t matter how good the benefits are because I’ll be out of a job,” said Local 1 member Gabriel Carrasquillo to public radio station WBEZ. “I’m HIV-positive so I have a lot of medical expenses. Without these health benefits, I wouldn’t be able to have the care that I have today.”

While Local 1 members picketed on a hot summer day, a hotel manager turned on 10 overhead heat lamps above the sidewalk where workers were picketing, endangering the lives of the striking workers. Hyatt issued a statement the next day apologizing for the incident but didn’t say whether the manager would be disciplined.

A media statement from UNITE HERE’s national headquarters about the day of action said that while “hotel housekeepers are the invisible backbone of the hotel,” their work is unsafe and is growing more precarious. The day of action gave Hyatt workers the chance to “(step) out of the shadows to demand an end to the abuses they face at work.” In addition to the demonstrations in San Antonio, San Francisco, and Chicago, Hyatt workers staged actions in Los Angeles, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Boston, and Philadelphia.

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