UNITE HERE and Hyatt sign national accord

UNITE HERE and the Hyatt Hotels Corporation reached a national agreement that could end four years of conflict between the hotel workers union and hospitality industry giant.

The national agreement creates what the union calls a framework for the two sides to resolve their long-standing dispute. One of its most important features is the creation of  a process that allows some Hyatt workers to choose whether they want to join UNITE HERE without fear of facing harassment by company management.

The agreement also includes new five-year contracts for UNITE HERE members who work for Hyatt in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Members in these four cities must ratify their new contracts before the national agreement can take effect.

The new contracts include pay raises retroactive to 2009 and maintain employer sponsored health care and pension benefits.

UNITE HERE has not released details of the new contracts, but UNITE HERE President D. Taylor told the Chicago Tribune, “People are getting a substantial wage increase, a guaranteed pension and great health insurance, and that does not happen too often in America. I think they will feel good about it.”

Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources for the Americas, told the Tribune that the new wage and benefit packages are competitive with wages and benefits for the same work in local markets.

The Tribune reports that UNITE HERE and Chicago’s Hilton Hotels reached an agreement last spring that increases housekeeper hourly wages by $4.81 an hour over the next five years. Housekeepers at the Chicago Hilton hotels are currently making $16.40 an hour, and the new agreement becomes effective September 1.

The union also did not release details about the part of the agreement that allows non-union Hyatt workers to decide whether they want to join UNITE HERE, nor did the union release details about which hotels would be affected. But Taylor told the American Prospect that it’s “a fair process that both we and the employer are comfortable with (and that) a number of hotels are subject to this process.”

Prior to the agreement, UNITE HERE had organized a worldwide campaign against Hyatt that included a boycott, a media campaign called Hyatt Hurts describing the unsafe working conditions at Hyatt hotels, a series of short strikes at hotels where contract issues had not been resolved for years, and organizing campaigns at targeted Hyatt hotels that were not unionized, including one in San Antonio.

Most recently UNITE HERE members demonstrated at the Hyatt Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting held in a Chicago suburb. The demonstrators protested the hotel’s poor treatment of its workers and demanded representation on the corporation’s board.

The union also led a campaign to protest President Obama’s nomination of Penny Pritzker, a Hyatt heiress and until recently a member of the Hyatt board, to be the US Secretary of Commerce.

Even though the Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Pritzker, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone dissenter, must have struck a chord when he told his Senate colleagues that,  “We need a secretary of commerce who will represent the interests of working Americans and their families, not simply the interests of CEO’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.”

About 5,000 workers are covered by the new contracts, and many more will be affected by the new union representation process.

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