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Working In These Times

Monday, Jan 21, 2013, 3:41 pm

Bad Karma at Hyatt Regency San Francisco

BY Carl Finamore

Yoga, for some, is more than posturing: Practitioners at the Yoga Journal convention get off their mats and join the UNITE HERE picket of Hyatt hotels.   (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Each year some 2,000 yoga enthusiasts assemble at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco for “a great convergence of yogis of all ages and backgrounds,” according to the convention's sponsor, Yoga Journal. The extremely liberal and tolerant “city by the bay” seems the perfect spot to spiritually and intellectually delve into yoga principles of social service and physical purification.

“But there is one huge problem,”says 19-year veteran yoga instructor Sri Louise. “There is a huge disconnect with our ethical values by scheduling a convention at a union-boycotted hotel that has a lousy safety record and mistreats it employees.”

A January 17 late afternoon picket by around 150 UNITE HERE Local 2 supporters made this point loud and clear.

“This has been an active boycott with regular picketing for three years and Yoga Journal has not taken us seriously. But it is very serious that Hyatt has distinguished itself as the worst employer in the industry. It’s the worst of the worst,” San Francisco Local 2, UNITE HERE union representative Julia Wong told me.

Walking on the picket line with Sri Louise were several other yogis, including trainee Stella Ng, a nurse at Summit Hospital in Oakland. “Yoga is for everyone, not just for improving yourself. So social justice is important. And I know how tough it is on housekeepers because I worked as a state employment counselor where workers were trained to clean a room and make a bed in seven minutes.”

Ng’s professional experience dovetails with union complaints against Hyatt for housekeeper abuse, high injury rates and excessive workloads. Wong offered examples to back up the union’s claims that Hyatt is the “worst of the worst.”

Management requires non-union housekeepers in Baltimore to clean up to 30 rooms, more than double the Local 2 contract standards; the National Labor Relations Board is currently conducting a hearing alleging Hyatt retaliation against outspoken employees; and, finally, Hyatt leads the industry in contracting out its housekeeping department.

Just like Wal-Mart, Wong explains, Hyatt wants third-party contractors to perform work so that the “responsibility for the hotel’s rotten safety record and mistreatment of immigrants and women can be passed off to them.”

These are absolutely false characterizations, Hyatt spokesperson Peter Hillan told me. 

Defending the hotel's safety record, Hillan said “UNITE HERE has filed 12 complaints against Hyatt with Cal/OSHA and the most recent settlement at Fisherman's Wharf had all the ergonomic complaints withdrawn. We take the well-being of our housekeepers very seriously and we will continue to be diligent about the training and tools they have to perform their jobs safely. These charges and the boycott are part of an overall corporate campaign by UNITE HERE aimed at Hyatt."

But critics often accuse Hyatt of concealing its real record by denying problems even exist. A January 17 San Francisco Bay Guardian online report quotes Cal/OSHA chief counsel Amy Martin responding to Hyatt's claims that Cal/OSHA charges were not about injuries to housekeepers but just some paperwork processing violations. On the contrary, Martin told the Guardian: "Cal/OSHA believes it found plenty of evidence both of injuries sustained by housekeepers, as well as violations of Cal/OSHA regulations."
 
"It is technically true that [citations] were withdrawn," Martin added, “but that was the outcome of an in-depth settlement negotiation.”

So there you have it. A convention of respected and honorable yogi masters, instructors and trainees who certainly all agree with yogic principles such as truthfulness  and consideration for others, but who seem to be unable to agree that it is simply very “bad Karma” to cross a picket line of employees striving for their own consideration from a money-making global corporate giant that just can’t seem to get its story straight.

Perhaps Hyatt executives would themselves benefit from a yoga regimen emphasizing truthfulness. But, first, our friends at Yoga Journal should perhaps reexamine their own practices.
 
Other versions of this piece have been posted at Beyond Chron and Counterpunch.

Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and former President (retired), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW.

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