Hotel Workers Fight Back: Launch Global Boycott of Hyatt, Class-Action Suit Against Temp Agency

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Global boycott of Hyatt launched

AFL-CIO, NFLPA, NOW, Netroots Nation, LGBT organizations & more join housekeepers for launch

By Staff
UNITE HERE

On Monday, July 23rd, 2012, Hyatt workers and allies formally launched the global boycott of Hyatt. Leaders from the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the National Organization of Women (NOW), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Netroots Nation, Interfaith Worker Justice, and more are joining Hyatt housekeepers at a press conference in Washington, D.C. to make a formal announcement about the boycott launch. The launch of the global boycott marks the largest escalation to date in an ongoing campaign for basic worker rights.

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is among the many allies standing with Hyatt workers for the launch of the global boycott (Source: UNITE HERE).

 

Huge turnout for HyattHurts! picket line at Grand Hyatt Union Square, July 26, 2012 (Source: Yael Chanoff ‏@Yaelnc pic.twitter.com/gL2ciCCX).

Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst hotel employer in America. Hyatt has abused housekeepers and other hotel workers, replacing longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous workloads on those who remain. In response, Hyatt workers have taken bold steps to end mistreatment, speaking publicly about abuses, going on strike, and now, launching a global boycott of Hyatt.

“Hyatt systematically abuses housekeepers and other hotel workers, and it is unacceptable in 2012 that women endure debilitating injuries as a result of the work they do cleaning rooms,”

said John Wilhelm, the President of UNITE HERE.

“We call on Hyatt to end its systematic abuse of housekeepers and adopt the recommendations made by the federal government to reduce the physical strain associated with housekeeping work.”

The launch will be accompanied by a full week of demonstrations at Hyatt Hotels and other actions in 20 U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Boston.

Participants in the July 23, 2012 press conference launching the global boycott include:

  • Hyatt hotel housekeepers and other workers nationwide
  • Richard Trumka, President, AFL-CIO
  • Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women (NOW)
  • DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director, National Football League Players Association (NFLPA)
  • Darlene Nipper, Deputy Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
  • Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director, Center for Community Change
  • Kim Bobo, Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice
  • Nolan Treadway, Political Director of Netroots Nation
  • Alice Cohan, Political Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation
  • Peggy Shorey, Executive Director, Pride at Work
  • MarQuis Fair, National Black Justice Center
  • Jerame Davis, Executive Director, National Stonewall Democrats
  • Cindy Pearson, Executive Director, National Women’s Health Network
  • Cleve Jones, Founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt; and founder of Sleep with the Right
  • People—a coalitional project between UNITE HERE and the LGBT community
  • Rabbi Barbara Penzner, Chair of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Labor Committee and Founder of the
  • Justice at Hyatt campaign
  • Catholic leaders from Network (The National Catholic Social Justice Lobby), Faith in Public Life, Labor
  • Priests, the Franciscan Action Network, and Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice
  • Hyatt Housekeepers from hotels nationwide

Millions called to action: Vote Hyatt Worst

In conjunction with the Washington, D.C. launch event, Hyatt workers and community supporters will be engaging in a week of action in 20 U.S. cities throughout the week. The week also marks the launch of a major social media program to

“Vote Hyatt the Worst Hotel Employer in America.”

As such, allies like MoveOn.org, Tom Morello, Netroots Nation, American Rights at Work, the Courage Campaign, the United Farmworkers Union, Making Change at Walmart, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, among others are joining Hyatt workers this week in calling on over two million people online to “Vote Hyatt Worst” to send a message to Hyatt that its abuse and exploitation of hotel workers will not be tolerated.

Global support

The global Hyatt boycott has been endorsed by virtually every union representing hotel workers worldwide. Additionally, over 5,000 individuals and organizations have pledged to honor boycotts called by Hyatt workers.

Global IUF endorsement. The IUF is a global union federation including hotel and food service workers’ unions. It represents over 12 million workers in 120 countries. Delegates to a recent congress unanimously voted their support of the global Hyatt boycott in May. The IUF noted that

“Hyatt’s business model relies upon the abuse and exploitation of women housekeepers and immigrants,”

and that “IUF supports Hyatt workers in their struggle for dignity and justice.”

Protests across India. Hundreds of hotel workers in India have staged demonstrations outside of Hyatt hotels in Delhi, Goa, and Chennai in support of the global Hyatt boycott. Hotel workers are also fighting against subcontracting in the hospitality industry in India, where Hyatt has 56 hotels in development. Additionally, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) has formally endorsed the global Hyatt boycott on behalf of the represents 10 million workers in India this union represent.

London calling. The United Kingdom’s largest union, Unite, pledged to support the Hyatt boycott on behalf of its 1.6 million members. Members of Unite held a solidarity rally outside of the Hyatt Andaz at Liverpool Street in London, Another union, the GMB, featured the Hyatt boycott during the Global Pride parade in London July 7, and is planning further actions during the week of the global boycott launch.

Standing against subcontracting in Israel. Freddi Cohen, Chairman of one of the member unions of Israel’s Histadrut labor federation, wrote a glowing letter of support for the struggle of North American Hyatt workers. He condemned Hyatt’s known abuses of subcontracted labor, and explained that the subcontracting of labor in hotels and many other sectors is now illegal in Israel following a powerful nation-wide general strike in February.

Solidarity in Manila. In the Philippines, several groups held a solidarity action in support of Hyatt workers. The IUF-affiliated NUWHRAIN, the hotel workers union in the Philippines, joined with the Alliance for Progressive Labor (APL) and Sentro ng mga Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) to send a strong message outside the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila. In a press statement by NUWHRAIN, workers expressed their

“solidarity with the workers of Hyatt in the United States and elsewhere in the world who have suffered and continued to suffer from many forms of exploitation and abuses perpetrated by the hotel brands under the Hyatt Corporation.”

Global petition. Nearly 100,000 members of SumOfUs.org in Australia, the United Kingdom and North America signed a petition calling on the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara to reinstate Martha and Lorena Reyes, who were fired after an objection to the posting of demeaning pictures of housekeepers in bikinis on a bulletin board at work.

 

VIDEO: NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith announces boycott of Hyatt (1 min).

 

Hotel workers tell Hyatt to feel their pain as boycott grows

By Jenny Brown
Labor Notes

Hotel workers in 20 cities are planning pickets, civil disobedience, and other actions this week to protest relentless efforts by Hyatt to drive workers harder and replace permanent jobs with temporary, lower-paid ones.

Unite Here Local 2 workers picket Hyatt Burlingame in San Francisco on the healthcare benefits and working conditions on Labor Day 2010 (9/2/2010); the hotel bosses had proposed a "Refresh Program" plan that included increasing a housekeepers' load of rooms to more than 25.

Hotel housekeepers gathered in Washington, D.C. on Monday, July 23 to launch an international boycott of their employer. Hyatt workers endure injurious workloads and an employer who seeks to subcontract their jobs.

Most union Hyatt workers have been without a contract for three years, fighting concession and workload demands, while workers in unorganized hotels are facing a relentless speedup leading to an epidemic of injuries. Hyatt has already faced strikes and a boycott campaign by UNITE HERE, the hotel union. Now the boycott is expanding.

“They’re going to temp all of us out eventually,”

said Denise Sidbury, a 12-year worker at the non-union Baltimore Hyatt Regency. She said she’s watched the hotel’s permanent housekeeping staff dwindle to nine while temps fill 25 of the positions.

“I don’t mind working hard, but I do mind being abused,”

said Cathy Youngblood, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in Hollywood. She said that many of her coworkers take pain medication to deal with the muscle strain from shoving king-size flat sheets under heavy mattresses more than a hundred times a day.

Since contracts started to expire, union workers have engaged in dozens of short strikes at various Hyatts in the U.S. and Canada, and the union calculates that targeted boycotts have diverted at least $25 million away from Hyatt properties.

Annemarie Strassel of UNITE HERE in Chicago said the union is insisting on stable hotel jobs but is meeting a dug-in position from Hyatt.

“We are stuck around the issues of subcontracting and making working conditions safer for housekeepers,” she said.

On Monday, the union dropped “Hyatt Hurts” banners in several cities and held a Washington, D.C. press conference with supportive groups, including the NFL Players Association and the National Organization for Women. Plans this week call for everything from clergy delegations to the boss, to marches and civil disobedience.

GOING GLOBAL

After years of boycotting selected Hyatts for their mistreatment of workers and refusals to negotiate, UNITE HERE announced Monday that it is expanding its boycott to all Hyatt properties worldwide, with the exception of the dozen that have signed union contracts.

The international food and hotel workers federation, IUF, has signed on to the global boycott, representing 12 million hotel and food service workers in 120 countries. Indian workers fighting subcontracting in their hotel industry have joined in, picketing hotels in three states to support the boycott. British and Filipino workers have also picketed Hyatts in support of U.S. workers.

The expanded boycott aims to hit Hyatt overseas, where it’s growing. While the U.S. market is saturated, according to the union, Hyatt has 56 hotels in development in India alone.

UNITE HERE has also launched an online campaign to further dent Hyatt’s brand, asking supporters to vote Hyatt the worst hotel employer.

There are plenty of reasons to believe Hyatt qualifies. High room quotas mean housekeepers work so fast their muscles do not have time to recover, a major cause of debilitating repetitive strain injuries affecting their arms, backs, shoulders, and hands.

In response, California hotel workers have been trying to get a law passed to provide housekeepers with fitted sheets and long-handled mops. The tools are aimed at decreasing on-the-job injuries after an occupational health study found that housekeepers have high injury rates. Hyatt hotels were the worst among those studied.

Youngblood testified at the hearings on the new law, saying fitted sheets

“would save our backs.”

She said Hyatt was the only major company to speak against the proposal publicly.

A Hyatt lobbyist told them

“we were probably just injuring ourselves dancing,”

said Youngblood, adding,

“Honey, after working at Hyatt all day we’re lucky to just stand up, let alone dance.”

Along with the low wages, Hyatt’s speedup includes outright wage theft, according to Wanda Rosario, who worked at a Boston Hyatt.

“If you didn’t finish by 4:30 you had to punch out and go back and finish the rooms for free,” she recalled.

The housekeepers said nearly all their co-workers are taking painkillers to get through their work day.

SLOW-MOTION JOB DESTRUCTION

Rosario was fired by Hyatt in Boston along with nearly 100 other full-time housekeepers three years ago. They were all replaced with temps.

“We were so loyal to Hyatt and they treated us like trash, like garbage,” she said.

“Why did I spend my time and my soul in this place when they don’t treat me like a human being?”

Hyatt officials in Chicago later admitted to a delegation of concerned clergy that the problem they saw with the mass firing was that it was so abrupt. Now, workers like Sidbury are seeing full-time staff picked off and replaced by temps slowly, one by one.

At her non-union workplace in Baltimore, the temps are required to clean between 24 and 27 rooms a day, while permanent staff clean 18.

“Some of them have worked here just as long as I have,” she said.

“Why aren’t they full time?”

Temps make just over minimum wage, Sidbury said, although with a union drive underway at her hotel, she said their pay may have risen recently.

Just talking union makes a difference, Sidbury said. Last year, managers tried to impose a 30 room per day quota on all housekeepers, “but they heard the word ‘union,’ and they brought it back down for us.”

Because Hyatt is so determined to undermine strength in union hotels, UNITE HERE has been trying to negotiate guarantees that Hyatt won’t convert permanent jobs to temporary positions. They’re also aiming for contracts that allow workers to take actions on behalf of Hyatt workers at non-union hotels, from pickets to boycotts and strikes.

NO ESCAPE

Temps who want to become permanent face managers determined to keep them powerless and underpaid. In Indianapolis, hotel workers discovered that their temp agency, Hospitality Staffing Services, had signed secret agreements with hotel managers to turn down temp workers who applied for permanent positions at any downtown hotel. Hotel workers flooded city hearings and convinced the city council to pass a regulation against such blacklisting agreements, but the mayor vetoed it last week.

In Providence, hotel workers did get the city council to require city-subsidized hotels to pay current workers a severance package of six months’ pay and benefits if their jobs are outsourced. In Long Beach, California, the hotel union is working to pass a measure to raise the wage floor for hotel workers and guarantee them sick days.

Sidbury said that when housekeepers dared to ask about working at Baltimore Hyatt full time, the temp agency found a way to get rid of them, in one case citing a background check that only became relevant when the worker spoke up.

Subcontracting also allows Hyatt to lie about the working conditions in its hotels, said Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist who works with the union. The company markets itself to the gay community, he said, touting corporate anti-discrimination policies.

“No matter what Hyatt says their commitment to non-discrimination and diversity is, they can say they’re giving health care, but none of that matters if your job is through a temp agency that doesn’t have any of those benefits,” said Jones.

 

 

Hotel employers conspire to deny permanent jobs

By Jenny Brown
Labor Notes

After four months as a temporary banquet server at the Sheraton in Indianapolis, Fernando Gomez asked his manager about working directly for the hotel. The manager told Gomez he couldn’t apply because

“there’s a contract.”

The contract was not something Gomez had signed or even seen because it is an agreement between his temp agency employer, Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), and the hotel, promising not to hire HSS workers.

The workers discovered that no Indianapolis hotel will hire them directly.

“HSS has contracts with all the major hotels downtown, kind of like monopoly,” Gomez said.

“We feel like we’re trapped.”

Denouncing the practice as a blacklist, a group of HSS workers and the hotel union UNITE HERE are pushing their city council to outlaw such “no-hire” agreements, and in January, 14 hotel workers sued the privately held Atlanta-based company, which operates in 70 cities.

They hope to make a class action suit on behalf of 3,000 affected Indiana workers. They also claim that HSS regularly stole their wages and estimate liability at $10 million.

Workers allege that HSS and hotel managers forced them to work through unpaid breaks, clocked them out before they stopped working, and forced them to come in early without clocking in. Sometimes workers discovered hours or days of work missing from their paychecks.

When confronted, managers claimed it would be corrected in the next check, but then it wasn’t. Workers compared notes and found widespread abuse.

A NON-UNION TOWN

The struggle over HSS comes as UNITE HERE attempts to get a foot in the door in Indianapolis, the largest U.S. city with no union hotels. Hyatt workers there requested representation in 2008 and have urged a boycott of their own workplace since 2010.

Their drive is part of the union’s national effort to get Hyatt to negotiate new agreements with its union hotels and to recognize unions in others if a majority say they want one. There are also union drives at two neighboring hotels.

The lawsuit has already had an impact, said Mike Biskar of UNITE HERE. Just two weeks after the workers sued, Hyatt dropped its contracts with HSS nationwide. The hotel chain didn’t hire workers directly, though. In Indianapolis managers brought in another staffing agency, Chicago-based United Services, which pays a bit more and doesn’t seem to have a no-hire agreement with the hotel.

It’s unclear how common it is for employers to collude to deny permanent work. Biskar said companies could well have similar arrangements in cities with no union presence, where it’s hard to monitor conditions. The union and several experts on employment law said no data exist.

EVER A TEMP

Economists tell us that in a recession, employers favor temps because they’re unsure they’ll need permanent staff. But increasingly employers favor “permatemps,” said Cathy Ruckelshaus of the National Employment Law Project.

“It used to be they’d tell workers it’s ‘temp to permanent,’” Ruckelshaus said.

“They don’t really say that anymore.”

Hotels have been particularly eager to shed staff and hire temps. In 2009, a Hyatt in Boston fired nearly 100 workers and replaced them with temps at half the pay and no benefits. Outrage at the firings led to a campaign for the “Hyatt 100” that still reverberates.

Hotel workers in Providence fought rampant temping at city-subsidized hotels by getting an ordinance passed that requires the hotels to pay current workers a severance package of six months’ pay and benefits if their jobs are outsourced. One hotel fought back by simply cutting current workers’ pay.

In cities with few or no union hotels, contract workers likely outnumber permanent staff, according to UNITE HERE. If you work for a hotel in downtown Indianapolis, there’s a roughly 3 in 4 chance you work through a temp agency, Biskar said.

“At Marriot, every housekeeper, every houseman, every cook, everyone in the back of the hotel, even supervisors were from HSS,”

Gomez said. At Hyatt the workforce has been about half and half, say union organizers.

However, “temporary” is the wrong word, workers say. Those who sued had worked for HSS as long as eight years.

HSS doesn’t say “temporary,” either. Instead it promotes what it calls continuity

(“The same trained associates show up to work at their assigned hotels each day,” says the company website).

And it promises to save hotel owners 12 percent on average in labor costs, a nasty boast to hotel workers who said the agency didn’t pay them at all for up to 20 hours of work a week.

Housekeeper Olivia Estevez, who asked that her real name not be used, spent 11 years working at the Indianapolis Marriott through HSS.

Marriot gave her workloads of 38 to 40 rooms a day, she said. In contrast, union hotel contracts stipulate closer to 13-16 rooms. When she was unable to complete her work within her regular hours, she was told to keep working but wasn’t paid for the extra hours.

When she asked for a raise after a decade of work, she was granted $8.88 per hour, but she was then quickly transferred to another hotel and dumped back down to the federal minimum of $7.25.

Tired of the enormous workloads and low pay, she tried to apply directly at a new JW Marriot.

“The lady asked if I worked in another place,” Estevez said.

“She told me that I had to get out of HSS and wait one year so I could apply at the hotel.”

If a worker complains, Gomez said,

“they intimidate you by saying there’s a stack of applications at their desk. They say if you don’t like it you can always quit and go somewhere else.”

But you can’t.

The bad conditions endured by temps drive everyone’s working conditions down, organizers say, because permanent workers worry their positions may be made temporary in an instant. That makes it doubly hard to organize permanent staff, while agency workers who speak up can be easily canned. After HSS saw Gomez’s name on the lawsuit, the agency cut his hours and eventually stopped calling him for work, he said.

BLACKLISTING BAN

While the lawsuit grinds through the courts, HSS workers and UNITE HERE have asked the city council to ban the blacklisting.

According to the union, $60 million in public funds subsidized construction of the 1,000-room hotel where Estevez applied. Public officials justified the handout by saying it would create jobs.

Under the union’s proposal, hotels would not get a license from the city if they enter no-hire agreements with staffing companies, Biskar said. Activists are optimistic that the measure will pass, but the mayor may veto it.

 

Sources: UNITE HERE | Labor Notes #1 | Labor Notes #2

 

 

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Hotel Workers Fight Back: Launch Global Boycott of Hyatt, Class-Action Suit Against Temp Agency — 1 Comment