By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Union News Service
The Hyatt Hotel chain’s refusal to bargain with workers over bad working conditions for housekeepers — and whether hotel workers can walk each others’ picket lines — led 3,000 UNITE HERE members to strike the chain’s hotels in Chicago, Los Angeles, Honolulu and San Francisco Sept. 8.
The walkout — by housekeepers, bussers, cooks, servers, bellmen, dishwashers and phone operators — is planned to last for one week.
The conflict with Hyatt has been simmering for more than a year, chain-wide. Other key events included Hyatt’s arbitrary firing of more than 100 housekeepers – many of them long-time workers – from its downtown Boston hotel when the workers tried to organize with UNITE HERE. Hyatt imported workers from other states as replacements.
Working conditions also play a key role. Hyatt took the lead in the California legislature, for example, in defeating a bill to end hotels’ practice of forcing housekeepers to work on their knees most of the time cleaning rooms. The bill would have required hoteliers to provide housekeepers with mops and buckets.
And Hyatt refuses to address injuries on the job, especially ergonomic – or musculoskeletal – injuries that housekeepers suffer from lifting and turning 100-pound mattresses and performing other heavy tasks. The majority of Hyatt housekeepers are female and many are Hispanic-American and African-American.
The conditions are so bad that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Hyatt for 17 violations of job safety regulations and proposed fines totaling more than $95,000, UNITE HERE said.
“Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry,” the union said in announcing the strike. “Hyatt has abused its housekeepers, replacing career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous workloads on those housekeepers who remain. By striking, workers are demanding the right to help themselves and other Hyatt workers across the United States contend with an abusive employer, intent on destroying decent jobs.”
“I have chronic pain in my shoulders and elbows, and I clean just 14 rooms a day. In some cities, Hyatt makes housekeepers clean 30 rooms in one day,” Antonia Cortez, a 35-year housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco, told the union. “I am 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.”
Contracts for striking workers in Chicago and San Francisco expired in Aug. 2009, in Los Angeles in Nov. 2009, and in Honolulu in June 2010. Workers in each of these cities reached agreements with other major hotel employers. Besides the strike in those four cities, UNITE HERE is calling for a boycott of 17 other Hyatts around the nation.
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