[Marxism] Carl Finamore article on week-long UNITE-HERE four-city strike against Hyatt
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Sep 10 13:55:01 MDT 2011
Hyatt Hotel Slams Week of Strikes
Posted on September 10, 2011 by dsalaborblogmoderator
By Carl Finamore
Victoria Guillen with her lovely daughter on picket duty at San
Francisco Grand Hyatt
Hyatt Hotels wasted no time and pulled no punches in condemning
UNITE-HERE’s seven-day strike against six hotels in San Francisco,
Chicago, Los Angeles and Waikiki.
Spokesperson for San Francisco Hyatt Hotels, Peter Hillan, told me on
the first day of the strike that “we offered UNITE-HERE’s Local 2 the
same contract they signed with the Hilton, Starwood and Intercontinental
but the union leadership rejected our offer. This strike is nothing but
street theatre that hurts our associates.”
“Oh yeah,” responded 15-year Grand Hyatt employee Aurolyn Rush when
learning of Hillan’s dismissive remark, “then why are we all here,” as
her arms extended proudly to the active picket line outside her hotel.
All 700 workers walked off the job on September 8 at the two downtown
Hyatt hotels in the “City by the Bay” with the union indicating over
2000 workers participating in the strike nationally.
Directly responding to Hillan’s statement, union negotiating committee
member Rush said, “first of all, right now what is on the table from the
Hyatt, contrary to what Mr. Hillan told you, is less than the Hilton
“For example, Hyatt proposes to take out contract card-check language
for hotels newly acquired or constructed in the area. Our members fought
for two years and were locked out for 58 days in the 2004-2006 dispute
to get these organizing rights. We are not about to give that up.
“However,” she strongly emphasized, “this is not why we are on strike now.”
So, Hillan appears to be right in one sense, this dispute is quite
different from the union’s negotiations with other hotels “but then
again,” says Local 2 spokeswoman Julia Wong, “the Hyatt is unlike any
Wong cited the Hyatt’s horrible safety record and mistreatment of
employees as the worst in the industry.
“The Hyatt can ignore that but we won’t. That’s what this strike is all
about,” she added.
So, while negotiations with the Hyatt are different than bargaining with
other hotels, it should also be acknowledged that this work stoppage is
also quite different than other strikes.
Different Strike for Different Hotel
Hyatt pickets shoo away an airport van
As experienced union negotiators understand, no contract is just about
wages and benefits. There are other extremely important protections and
rights for workers that are often the most controversial aspects of
In this particular case, the union is taking a stand for specific
contract language that allows workers to organize solidarity actions
such as strikes and boycotts when Hyatt management imposes egregiously
unsafe and abusive working conditions.
This is the controversial language that Hillan terms “unprecedented in
“Yes, well this unprecedented language, as Mr. Hillan describes it, is
in direct response to Hyatt’s unprecedented abuse,” UNITE-HERE national
boycott coordinator Lisa Jaicks told me while holding a picket sign.
But, as Jaicks reported to me, neither is it quite so unprecedented as
Mr. Hillan suggested.
In fact, Local 2 sources negotiated similar language with the
prestigious landmark Fairmont Hotel after management there recently
threatened to convert prime guest rooms into exclusive private condominiums.
After citywide protests, the hotel backed off. But if the issue comes up
again, the union now has contractual rights to organize economic actions
such as a strike and boycott. And, just in the last month, the union
negotiated similar contract language covering workers at restaurants
employed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
“So, again, contradicting what Mr. Hillan claims in your interview, this
language is not without precedent,” Wong said. “But it is not about
getting what we got at the Fairmont or at SFO, it is about addressing
specific conditions at Hyatt hotels where workers need rights to express
solidarity with each other.”
Antonia Cortex, 35-year San Francisco Grand Hyatt housekeeper agrees: “I
have chronic pain in my shoulders and elbows, and I clean just 14 rooms
a day. In some cities, Hyatt makes [non-union] housekeepers clean 30
rooms in one day. I’m on strike because I want the right to take action
for all Hyatt housekeepers, no matter where they work. We all work for
the same company. We should all have the right to stand up for each other.”
While the unique character of the strike has attracted scorn from
management, labor supporters both recognize and admire its bold and
For example, the 100,000-member affiliates of the San Francisco Labor
Council, AFL-CIO, support obtaining contract language that would give
Hyatt workers rights “to organize, get contracts, or protest abuses
wherever they may occur.”
Clearly, in a period when unions are fighting mostly defensive battles
to hold onto workers’ current wages and health benefits, UNITE-HERE’s
week-long nationally coordinated strike attempts to do much more.
“This is an exciting and historic event for our union,” Local 2
president Mike Casey told me. “After two years without a contact,
workers in four cities for the first time have coordinated week-long
strikes to advance the principle of solidarity.”
We Are the Best Place to Work in Town
UNITE-HERE and the Hyatt chain have been at odds for some time with
currently active boycotts at 17 locations around the country, all
initiated by workers at the targeted hotels. The union has documented an
impressive $20 million loss in hotel revenue.
Union safety concerns are a major issue and would seem to be backed up
by a November 19, 2009 Chicago Tribune report by Julie Wernau:
“Housekeepers at Hyatt Hotels are more likely to get injured on the job
than at other major hotel chains, according to a study set to be
published in January’s American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The
study, led by researchers at the University of Illinois School of Public
Health, is based on data from 50 unionized hotel properties of various
Again, Hillan doesn’t put much stock into this. “On claims of Hyatt
abuse, the documentation of the supposed academic study is not credible.”
Unimpressed, union supporters point out that the critical report was
published in a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.
Nonetheless, Hillan asserts, “the Hyatt is the best place to work in town.”
Not according to Rush: “They fired 100 housekeepers in Boston, made them
train minimum-wage replacements and then, on very short notice, gave
them plastic garbage bags to clean out their lockers. Some of these
workers had over 20 years. Is this the best place to work?
“This is not the only example. I would not be working here in San
Francisco because of their harassment if not for the union protecting
me. Neither would others at my hotel.”
Pointing to a woman on the picket line with her infant child, Aurolyn
described the case of seven-year Hyatt employee Victoria Guillen who had
a doctor’s excuse from work for her recent high-risk pregnancy.
“San Francisco Hyatt management told Victoria she would be fired if she
did not return to work three days after the birth of her daughter even
though her doctor advised several more months of recuperation.
“We were outraged. Co-workers petitioned for her, the union had
religious and community delegations plead her case and Victoria
eventually was able to return to work only after the doctor approved her
medical release. But, of course, the horrible stress of these threats
during her pregnancy was outrageous and unnecessary.
“We want the right to express that same kind of solidarity for other
Hyatt workers wherever the abuse occurs without being harassed or
intimidated. It’s that simple!”
That basic idea of concern for each other originally motivated workers
to build unions in the first place and it appears now again to be the
inspiration for hotel workers on Hyatt picket lines across the country.
Carl Finamore is Machinist Local Lodge 1781 delegate to the San
Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781 at yahoo.com
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