UNITE HERE on July 23 announced a worldwide boycott of Hyatt Hotels in response to the hotel chain’s abusive treatment of its housekeeping staff and other employees. In addition to subjecting its employees to health and safety risks, the union said that Hyatt pays low wages, outsources full-time work to subcontractors who use temporary staff, and does not respect its workers.
“Hyatt systematically abuses housekeepers and other hotel staff,” said UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm as he announced the boycott. “It is unacceptable that in 2012 women endure debilitating injuries as a result of the work that they do cleaning rooms.”
A group of clinicians, who recently met with Hyatt workers, offered their support for the boycott and urged others in the medical community, which accounts for 23 percent of all meetings and conferences in the hospitality industry, to do the same.
“A healthy society needs workers who are treated with respect and who are able to provide for their families,” said David Blatt, co-director of the Illinois Masonic HIV Unit. “Hyatt workers are fighting for workplace safety in order to reach that goal.”
Doctors supporting the boycott called attention to a study in the American Journal of Internal Medicine that found that among 50 hotel properties examined for the study, Hyatt’s housekeepers had the highest rate of injury.
Job speed up is one of the main causes of on-the-job injuries at Hyatt. Housekeepers are required to clean up to 30 rooms a day, nearly twice the rate at other unionized hotels.
This means that the housekeepers have about 15 minutes to vacuum, change bed linen, mop bathrooms, and scrub showers and toilets in each room. Doing this work requires heavy lifting and bending and stooping in awkward positions at a fast pace.
In April, The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration told Hyatt that inspectors investigating safety complaints found a number of safety hazards at the company’s hotels that could cause serious musculoskeletal disorders. In a letter to Hyatt, OSHA recommended actions that the hotel chain could take to eliminate these hazards.
“OSHA’s letter validates reports by Hyatt housekeepers about pain and injuries sustained while cleaning luxury hotel rooms,” read a statement released by UNITE HERE. “Lifting heavy mattresses and other cleaning activities can lead to debilitating injuries, surgery and even permanent disability.”
But it’s not just about the pain and risk of permanent injury that led the union to call for the boycott. Hyatt, says the union, has a history of mistreating its workers.
For example, Jacqueline Ammoah, a housekeeper at the Hyatt McCormick Place in Chicago, slipped at work and fractured three ribs. Before management would allow her to go to a hospital for medical treatment, they required her to take drug and breathalyzer tests and to write a report on what she could have done to avoid the accident.
Martha Reyes, who worked for the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California, came to work one day last year and found some male co-workers laughing at an offensive photo-shopped picture of some female co-workers. When she and her sister complained to management about the picture, they were fired.
Addelhakian Ejjair, who works at the Hyatt Regency’s restaurant in Indianapolis, makes less than $20,000 per year. He has to work two jobs to support his wife and two children. He would like to quit one job, so he can spend more time with his family. He pays $120 month for health care insurance just for himself. He visited unionized Hyatt hotel workers in Chicago and learned that they pay only $30 a month for full family coverage.
Hyatt’s record has led a number of groups to support the boycott including the National Football League’s Players Association, the National Organization of Women, the AFL-CIO, and several lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender groups.
The Jewish Daily Forward, reports that a group of Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis and community leaders recently criticized Hyatt in a report on the company’s treatment of its workers.
They called for a boycott of the hotel chain until it changes. “We pledge to treat the Hyatt as lo kasher/not kosher for events and celebrations until it treats its workers with justice,” said the Jewish leaders in their report.