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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hotel Workers to Picket Hyatt, Call for Boycott

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 3:35 PM

There was no step-sisters union in those days.
  • There was no step-sisters union in those days.

Updated 4:55 p.m. to show Hyatt's statement about the boycott initiative.

The stories coming from Hyatt housekeepers explain why people in 20 cities are rallying to launch a global boycott of the hotel chain: overworked employees, unfair firings, management turning on heat lamps on protesters in the middle of summer.

In San Francisco, workers and supporters plan to picket later this afternoon in front of the Grand Hyatt Union Square. Organizers, in a statement, claim that Hyatt has "singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry." A bevy of union and advocacy groups, including the NFL Player's Association, have endorsed the boycott movement.

Supporters have a good deal of anecdotes to lob at hotel management.

"In the locker room, everyone is always asking for Tylenol," Grand Hyatt housekeeper Antonia Cortez said, through the organizers' statement. "We joke about it, but the pain in my shoulder is so bad I can't play with my granddaughter anymore."

"Before we start our day, there is always a line at the drinking fountain for women to take their pain pills," housekeeper Jacqueline Ammoah echoes on a website supporting the boycott.

Workers and advocates allege an in-hotel culture of physical toil and disrespect.

This past fall, Santa Clara housekeepers Martha and Lorena Reyes ripped down break-room pictures of their Photoshopped heads on bikini-clad bodies. A month later they were both fired, accused of taking extra-long breaks.

Last July, Chicago hotel brass turned on heat lamps above striking workers. In an apology statement the next day, the company laid the blame on a single manager, noting that "it was clearly a decision that was not in line with our values or with our corporate policies."

In 2009, the Boston and Cambridge branches laid off their entire staffs and replaced them with temporary hires.

The boycott's organizers also claim that the hotel tried to fire a dishwasher who said she needed more than three days to recover from a C-section before returning to work.

Among the list of supporters -- which included AFL-CIO, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Organization of Women, and National Black Justice Coalition -- the NFL Player's Association, not known for its political activism, might have been the most notable.

"As an organization, we will not spend our money at Hyatt," DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL player's union, said in a statement. "Instead, we will partner with hotels who respect workers and working families. Letters will go out to every player in the National Football League, urging them to stay at those hotels who not only have current relationships with us, but at those that believe in what is right and fair."

The protest begins today at 4:30 p.m.

Update, 4:55 p.m.: Hyatt has released a statement, countering that "Hyatt provides industry leading wage and benefits packages, maintains an outstanding workplace safety record, and is a recognized leader in promoting a diverse workforce."

The boycott campaign, the statement goes on, "is not about creating a better workplace at our hotels, but is an attempt to boost union membership at non-union Hyatt hotels through a non-democratic and intimidating process."

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