San Jose marches to demand Hyatt give workers a voice

hyatt rally

"Hyatt, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" and "Talking union, it's all right, we are here and ready to fight!" rang out across the entrance of the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California on the morning of December 13 as around 60 labor, community, and religious activists joined Hyatt workers, represented by UNITEHERE Local 19, demanding that Hyatt add a worker to its board of directors to give voice to workers' concerns.

This action was part of a national week of actions that began Dec. 12 at Hyatt headquarters in Chicago, where hotel workers submitted a resolution to the company urging the addition of a hotel worker as the thirteenth member to the board of directors. The current board features such billionaires as Tom and Penny Prizker of the Pritzker family, Greg Penner, an heir to the Walmart fortune, and others with ties to major capitalist financial institutions like Goldman Sachs. None has any experience as a worker.

"I've been cleaning rooms and taking care of guests at Hyatt for 10 years," says Hyatt Regency housekeeper Nenita Ibe. "I think having someone like me on the board of directors would help Hyatt work better for the company, the customers, and the workers."

Hyatt workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Antonio, Baltimore, Phoenix, Honolulu, and Seattle are also holding actions this week.

Local 19 has been struggling for a contract at Hyatt for several years.  According to the union, Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry by abusing its housekeepers, replacing longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers, and imposing health-threatening workloads on those who remain. In a first in the hotel industry, the Federal government issued a letter to Hyatt earlier this year, warning the company of hazards their housekeepers face.

Today's rally attracted a variety of local activists. Among the labor representatives was long-time activist Fred Hirsch, member of the Executive Board of Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 and delegate to the South Bay Labor Council. Several clergy also came to lend their support, including Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos. Rabbi Aron found it especially appropriate to be marching for justice during Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the victory of a small band over greater power. "I feel that we're a small band facing down greater corporate power," she said.

Photo: Henry Millstein/PW

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