Thousands of hotel workers protest at Hyatts nationwide

CHICAGO – Thousands of Unite Here members and their labor and community supporters took to the streets in 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada July 22 in a coordinated protest at Hyatt hotels.

Peaceful civil disobedience marked protests in several cities.

The demonstrators were expressing their outrage at the Hyatt’s layoffs, slashing of workers’ hours and takeaway demands in contract talks, at the same time the giant hotel chain has reported having over $1.3 billion in available cash and its wealthy owners, the Pritzker family, took in over $900 million from the hotel’s first public offering in November 2009.

Here in Chicago – Pritzker family headquarters – hundreds of workers sat down in the street in front of the Hyatt Regency’s glass tower that rises high above the Chicago River. They were cheered on by 1,000 supporters lining both sides of the drive in front of the hotel.

Twenty five sit-in participants were arrested after demonstrators blocked traffic for nearly an hour.

As onlookers cheered, the workers, with signs reading “Enough is Enough!” pinned to their backs, entered the street in single file and sat down in rows. “We are human beings, enough is enough!” they chanted as they sat, arms linked, filling the street from one end to the other.

One demonstrator – a Hyatt Regency room attendant — said the last two years have been really difficult.

“Hyatt laid me off for eight months, and I have a newborn baby to support.” When she finally returned, she said she found several co-workers had injured their backs because of new heavy mattresses and a heavier workload.

“What was already a hard job just got harder, and I am standing up to Hyatt, because their profits are coming back but we’re still in pain.”

Sit-in participant Christian Saez, a hotel cook, said of current contract negotiations, “We’re not stupid. We may not have the formal education but we know what’s going on.”

In an attempt to drown out the workers’ voices, hotel management sent two plain clothes security personnel to operate a sand blaster near the main entrance.

When reporters tried to ask the sandblasters why they were operating the machinery without actually sand-blasting anything, they were prevented from doing so by Mike Patia, who said he was responsible for hotel security.

“I have no comment about what they are doing,” he said.

Standing in front of a hastily rigged banner reading, “Hyatt appreciates its associates,” he said, “You’ll have to remove yourself from here because this is private property.”

In San Francisco, some 1,400 Unite Here! Local 2 members and their labor and community supporters packed the streets surrounding upscale Union Square as they marched to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Along with the San Francisco Labor Council and dozens of unions, many community and faith organizations were also represented, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance. “We think it’s very important to support workers’ rights,” said PJA member Kate Smallenburg. “We see a lot of problems with the big hotels, including not allowing workers to organize.”

Once at their destination, over 150 demonstrators sat down in the middle of the street, proudly displaying their frowny-faced “Shame on Hyatt” placards and refusing to move as ordered by police. They were cited and later released by police.

Over 9,000 San Francisco hotel workers are among the 45,000 across North America who are in contract talks with major hotel chains. The union says the Hyatt is demanding “hundreds of dollars in monthly family health care premiums, reduced pensions and wages.”

Protests were also held in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Monterey, Honolulu, Boston, Toronto, Miami, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Santa Clara and San Diego.

Unite Here says that while the hotel industry nationwide is rebounding strongly from the recession and is expected to gain further in 2011 and 2012, hotels continue to squeeze workers and cut staff. Nationally, over 115,000 hotel industry jobs have been cut since 2008, including 46,000 in the first quarter of 2010. In a particularly notorious example, Hyatt last year fired the entire housekeeping staff at three Boston-area hotels, replacing them with minimum-wage contract workers.

Photo: San Francisco hotel workers and supporters take to the streets on July 22. (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)

Slideshow photos: From Texas (Vivian Weinstein/PW); Chicago (Scott Marshall/PW); San Francisco (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for the People's World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a member of the paper's staff since 1986. She has also been active in the peace movement. Born in Iowa, Marilyn has also lived in Chicago and New York City, and originally made her living as a professional musician.