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Working In These Times

Friday, Jul 22, 2011, 6:15 am

Hyatt Hotel Puts the Heat on Striking Workers—Literally

BY Kari Lydersen

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CHICAGO—The Hyatt hotel chain turned up the heat on striking and picketing workers—literally—here Thursday, as 10 hanging heat lamps normally used in winter were turned on workers picketing outside the downtown Park Hyatt. This occurred on one of the year’s hottest days—with a heat index well above 100 degrees and the temperature over 80 degrees, with high humidity even early in the morning—part of a lethal nationwide heat wave.

CBS reported:

Combined with the outdoor air temperature, Linda Long says it was hotter than the Hyatt kitchen she’s worked in for eleven years. “They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing,” Long said. “If the heat didn’t kill us, the heat lamps would.”

Workers at Hyatts in nine cities nationwide were holding a one-day strike and picket to draw attention to contract negotiations, which have been stalled for 22 months, and what workers and union leaders call atrocious treatment of housekeepers, including sub-par wages, subcontracting out of work, and the speed at which housekeepers are expected to clean rooms.

The Chicago Tribune quoted a 42-year-old bellman about the heat lamps. He said only bellmen, engineers and select other employees can turn the lamps on, and it could not have been an accident.

This is one of the hottest days of the summer. Work at that door every single day and only in winter time do those need to be turned on. Somebody did it on purpose. It's ridiculous.

Hyatt workers also held a one-day strike and picket last month, as Candice Bernd reported for Working In These Times:

After months of bargaining, Unite Here Local 1 has won a 3-year contractual agreement with Hilton and Starwood hotel companies this year. While Hyatt has indicated support for a contract that would match some of the settlements of Hilton and Starwood for union employees, the company continues to refuse a fair bargaining process for workers at nonunion hotels, remaining the last of the three largest hotel chains to do so. Another sticking point for Hyatt is the subcontracting out of new work.

The chain is owned by the influential Pritzker family. Chicago blogger Michael Klonsky (an occasional In These Times contributor) writes:

Heiress Penny Sue Pritzker chairs Obama's national campaign finance committee. She is also big player in Democratic Party politics as well as in the world of anti-union, corporate school reform and was recently appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a seat on the Chicago school board.

In a statement Hyatt said the heat lamps went on by accident and were turned off about an hour later after they were notified. Workers said they suspected that’s because media had been alerted. Klonsky reported the heat lamps seemed to energize the picketers, who chanted “You can’t smoke us out.”

This seemingly inhuman and probably illegal response seemed to have had just the opposite effect. Picketers began chanting, "Hyatt can't take the heat, but we can!" The lamps were left on until word got out and media began to show up.

The day of action Thursday came three weeks after a report by rabbis that described the Hyatt working conditions as “not kosher" and hundreds of religious leaders picketed with workers at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. The UNITE HERE unionwebsite says: "Hyatt Hotel Housekeepers suffer abuse. Our injury rates are high, our wages are low, and our immigrant sisters are exploited and cheated by Hyatt’s housekeeping subcontractors."

The Chicago Tribune reported the company’s official response to Thursday’s picket:

In cities from Chicago to Waikiki and here at Park Hyatt, we have offered union leaders contract proposals that match wage and benefit packages identical to what Unite Here has accepted from other hotel companies. Yet, union leaders have rejected every one of these proposals.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism professor at Medill at Northwestern University, where she is fellowship director of the Social Justice News Nexus. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99 Percent., Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.

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