How Hyatt treats its workers

Opinion: Columns

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Tom Broderick

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When UNITE~HERE!, a union of hotel workers, called for an international day of action against Hyatt Hotels on July 21, they could not have known what the weather would be like in Chicago. We were suffering a heat wave that was repeatedly called dangerous. An editorial cartoon published in the Chicago Tribune that day had two devils roasting in hell. The caption was "It's as hot as Chicago!"

At 7:10 a.m., I showed up to take part in the daylong strike and picket line at the Park Hyatt on Chicago Avenue. To welcome us, the Park Hyatt had turned on the heat lamps over the entrance where picketers were marching. Dangerously hot weather + heat lamps used in winter to make guests toasty as they wait in Chicago's less-than-mild winters = an attitude toward human beings that speaks loud and clear.

When hotel management saw reporters talking with picketers, they turned off the lamps. Initial reports were that the heat was turned on by accident or that a manager had acted alone. In any case, the heat was turned off and the hotel offered bottled water to the picketers. This was declined, as UNITE~HERE! Local 1 already had water available to drink and to spritz picketers as we walked.

In response to an email I sent, Mark Hoplamazian, president and chief executive officer of the Hyatt Hotels Chain, apologized and placed the blame on "a manager, who has since left the company. ... Our Company has a long history of respecting our associates and caring about their well-being. As such, I know this incident ... is not emblematic of the Hyatt culture."

On Aug. 31, 2009, three Boston-area Hyatt Hotels fired 98 workers and replaced them with minimum wage workers. These Hyatts had their employees train their replacements under the ruse that they would be getting jobs at other hotels.

A 2010 study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that housekeepers at the Hyatt chain had the highest average injury rate for housekeepers in a study of 50 hotels and five major chains.

Hotel beds have gotten bigger and heavier. There is a bill pending in California that would require hotels to have fitted sheets and that mops be made available so housekeepers don't have to get down on their hands and knees to clean bathroom floors. The Hyatt chain is the only major hotel chain to publicly oppose the bill.

At the end of his letter, Mr. Hoplamazian shifts focus and blames UNITE~HERE! for acting in its own self-interest rather than the workers' interests. UNITE~HERE!, he wrote, wants to "increase union membership at non-union hotels — at the expense of the members it represents."

This is subterfuge. UNITE~HERE! is a democratic, member-driven union. Had UNITE~HERE! represented the workers at the Boston-area Hyatts, how would things have turned out?

UNITE~HERE! wants neutrality in their organizing efforts, as well as an end to subcontracting work at union hotels to non-union workers.

Tom Broderick is a resident of Oak Park.

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