San Antonio Hyatt workers ratify first collective bargaining agreement

Workers at two Hyatt hotels on San Antonio’s Riverwalk on November 18 ratified their first collective bargaining agreement.

The new agreement is the culmination of a six-year organizing campaign conducted by UNITE HERE, the hospitality industry’s largest union.

The new five-year agreement covers 500 workers at San Antonio’s Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency, both of which are located on the Riverwalk, where hotels, restaurants, bars, and other entertainment destinations line both banks of the San Antonio River as it meanders through the city’s downtown.

The new agreement includes pay increases in each year of the agreement, the reinstatement of about 100 jobs that had been outsourced, and protections for immigrant employees.

The agreement also includes language that ensures that tipped workers at the hotels get to keep a fair share of the tips left by patrons.

In December 2014, the workers took advantage of a neutrality agreement that the union and Hyatt negotiated in 2013 and voted to join UNITE HERE Local 23.

“These are the first hotels on the San Antonio Riverwalk to have the union, and to have union contracts,” said Danna Schneider, Local 23 organizer, to WOAI radio.

Management also seemed pleased that the two sides had reached an agreement.

“We are pleased to reach an agreement with UNITE HERE and to move forward with our associates to provide the authentic hospitality our guests have come to expect,” said Ed Bucholtz, general manager of Grand Hyatt San Antonio. “We remain committed to providing a caring work environment for our associates, which includes a positive workplace environment and competitive wages and benefits.”

But the relationship between Hyatt and UNITE HERE has not always been so amicable.

The two sides in 2009 were involved in bitter contract disputes in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In Chicago, the collective bargaining agreement between Hyatt and the union expired without a new agreement in place.

The union was seeking protections against outsourcing, improved safety requirements, and relief from dangerous workloads.

The union also wanted to include in the agreement provisions that would make it easier for workers at non-union Hyatt hotels to join the union and that would allow union workers to demonstrate their solidarity with non-union hotel workers who wanted to join a union.

At the same time that UNITE HERE was bargaining with Hyatt in Chicago, it was bargaining with other unionized hotels in the Chicago area.

It managed to secure agreements with the other hotels, but Hyatt refused to sign off.

UNITE HERE ran into the same problems in San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2010, the union and Hyatt couldn’t reach an agreement in Honolulu.

Even though there was no agreement, workers continued to work without a contract.

In 2010, UNITE HERE organized a national day of action in 15 cities to demand that Hyatt agree to a fair contract for its employees.

In 2011, the relationships between Hyatt and its union workers reached its nadir when on a July day when temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, management at Park Hyatt Chicago turned on heat lamps near sidewalks where UNITE HERE members were picketing the hotel during a one-day strike.

In September, UNITE HERE members conducted a one-week strike against Hyatt hotels in the four cities where contracts had expired.

The union also called for a boycott against the 17 Hyatt hotels where contracts had expired.

The union in 2012 called for a worldwide boycott of Hyatt.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Penny Pritzker, a billionaire who owns the largest stake in Hyatt, was nominated for US Secretary of Commerce, a cabinet position in the Obama administration.

UNITE HERE in May 2013 called on Senators to reject the nomination.

Pritzker was confirmed in June, but in July, Hyatt and the union ended the four-year dispute by signing an agreement that established a framework for new collective bargaining agreements in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. The agreement included a process that would allow Hyatt workers in non-union hotels to join a union without company interference.

A year and half later, San Antonio Hyatt workers reaped the benefits of that agreement when they join Local 23.

Eleven months later, the workers had their first contract.

“This is a great moment for San Antonio,” said Schneider to the San Antonio Express News,  “I’m so proud that this agreement, and this partnership with Hyatt, sets the bar for what dignified hotel work should look like in this city.”

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