Hyatt workers at six hotels in four US cities are nearing the end of an unprecedented, week-long nationally coordinated strike against the giant hospitality chain. The striking workers, who belong to UNITE HERE, want new contracts that give them more protection against unsafe working conditions, better job security, and more respect from their employer.
“I’m on strike because I don’t want anyone to become crippled from this work,” said Angela Martinez, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, where she has worked for 23 years. “I ask everyone to please respect our boycott. We are hard-working women, not machines.”
At the Hyatt where Martinez works, the company two years ago renovated and upgraded the hotel and its furnishing. Among other things, the company installed larger, heavier matresses, which housekeepers must lift when changing bed linen. Some of these matresses can weigh as much as 100 pounds. The heavier “beds make my job much more difficult. I can’t lift the mattress because my left arm feels like it’s coming out of the socket. It feels like it is separating,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s experience is shared by other housekeepers who work for Hyatt. A peer-review study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate among those who worked in the 50 properties owned by five hotel chains reviewed by the study.
The study also found that the injury rate for hotel workers in general is 25 percent higher than injury rates for other service sector workers.
The lack of job safety isn’t the only concern that sparked the strike. Hyatt has been laying off long-time housekeepers and replacing them with temporary, minimum-wage workers. At three of its non-union hotels in Boston, Hyatt fired about 100 housekeepers, many of whom had worked 20 or more years for the company, and replaced them with workers from a temporary staffing agency. To add insult to injury, Hyatt made the fired workers train their replacements.
“The story of the “Hyatt 100” represents just one example of how Hyatt’s aggressive use of subcontractors is destroying
good jobs,” reads a statement at the UNITE HERE website. “Using subcontractors allows Hyatt to pay housekeepers poverty wages while evading legal liability for unsafe working conditions or hiring undocumented workers. In Indianapolis, San Antonio and many other cities, Hyatt has continued to expand the use of subcontractors.”
The weeklong strike in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco is an escalation of the tactics that UNITE HERE has used to break a negotiations stalemate between the union and company over new contracts. The old contracts covering workers workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco expired in 2009; the one covering workers in Honolulu expired in 2010 .
In the past, Hyatt workers have staged one-day strikes. They have also lauched a boycott of 17 Hyatt properties and have led public demonstrations all across North America. Already, Hyatt has lost over $20 million in hotel business as a result of the boycott.
In San Francisco, BeyondChron.org reports that UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents workers at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadaro Center and the Grand Hyatt, is fighting to include language in the new contract that would allow workers to organize and join in solidarity actions, including strikes, when Hyatt management imposes egregiously unsafe working conditions.
Local 2 won similar language in a contract with one of San Francisco’s most prestigious hotels, The Fairmont, and with restuarants at the San Francisco International Airport.
“Hyatt workers are waging a crucial struggle,” says John Wilhelm, the President of UNITE HERE–a union representing 250,000 hotel and other hospitality workers throughout North America. “In the face of widening income inequality and the systematic eradication of the American middle class, Hyatt workers are bravely fighting for the ability to stand up for one another in
contending with a global giant like Hyatt.”