‘Hyatt Hurts’ Boycott Inflicts Pain on the Hotel Giant (Updated)

Bruce Vail

Jeff Nelson (R), research director of UNITE HERE, with Charlotte Knox (L), a 25-year veteran housekeeper at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore who told the City Council that working conditions have deteriorated.

UPDATE: The full 14-mem­ber Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly on March 18 to approve a res­o­lu­tion aimed at the Hyatt Regency Bal­ti­more hotel, where a union orga­niz­ing dri­ve is cur­rent­ly under­way. The res­o­lu­tion, passed in a voice vote, calls on Hyatt to sign a Labor Peace Agree­ment’ to improve hir­ing prac­tices and to pro­tect the city’s finan­cial inter­ests as a union-spon­sored glob­al boy­cott goes forward. 

BAL­TI­MORE — Hyatt Corp received an implic­it vote of no con­fi­dence’ from the Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil late last week when the Labor Com­mit­tee advanced a res­o­lu­tion to halt the hotel giant’s union sup­pres­sion efforts.

The res­o­lu­tion pres­sures Hyatt to sign a Labor Peace Agree­ment’ that would allow UNITE HERE Local 7’s orga­niz­ing cam­paign at the Hyatt Regency Bal­ti­more to go for­ward with­out obstruc­tion from man­agers. Approved in a 3 – 0 vote on March 14, the res­o­lu­tion now heads to the full City Coun­cil, where it enjoys over­whelm­ing support.

A two-hour hear­ing on the res­o­lu­tion was a one-sided affair at which Hyatt work­ers and their sup­port­ers detailed mul­ti­ple labor prob­lems at the 488-room hotel. Approx­i­amte­ly 100 union back­ers filled the his­toric coun­cil cham­ber. Hyatt itself refused to send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to pub­licly defend the com­pa­ny, instead sub­mit­ting a let­ter at the last minute plead­ing for delay of the proceedings. 

Yes, that went well,” remarked UNITE HERE spokesper­son Tra­cy Lin­go at the close of the Thurs­day-night hear­ing. Lin­go cred­it­ed Labor Com­mit­tee Chair­man Robert Cur­ran (D) for push­ing the res­o­lu­tion through. The next steps, she said, are to secure the pub­lic sup­port of oth­er local politi­cians, then sign an agree­ment to allow a card check’ pro­ce­dure for union rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the Hyatt com­plex locat­ed in the heart of the city’s Inner Har­bor tourist district.

UNITE HERE’s advance in Bal­ti­more comes as part of its larg­er Hyatt Hurts’ cam­paign, launched last year as a glob­al effort to broad­en union rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the company’s hotels. The union cam­paign also seeks to set­tle sim­mer­ing dis­putes with Hyatt at scat­tered hotels where UNITE HERE already rep­re­sents some work­ers, and where Hyatt is tak­ing a hard line against its own employees.

Hyatt is clear­ly feel­ing the cam­paign pres­sure; the hotel chain issued a pub­lic state­ment on March 11 laud­ing new con­tract set­tle­ments with UNITE HERE locals at three wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed hotels fac­ing labor unrest. The con­tract set­tle­ments affect hotel work­ers in Philadel­phia, Den­ver and San Diego. The state­ment also men­tions small­er set­tle­ments with var­i­ous units of Inter­na­tion­al Broth­er­hood of Team­sters, Ser­vice Employ­ees Inter­na­tion­al Union, and Inter­na­tion­al Long­shore & Ware­house Union. Hyatt’s appar­ent desire for a sem­blance of labor tran­quil­i­ty seems to be fil­ter­ing down to Bal­ti­more as well, where Lin­go reports that Hyatt has made a ten­ta­tive offer to set­tle a par­tic­u­lay raw griev­ance by the union that Hyatt hires numer­ous low-paid tem­po­rary work­ers instead of bet­ter-paid per­ma­nent employ­ees. That hir­ing prac­tice denies the tem­po­rary work­ers bet­ter wages and ben­e­fits, while also hin­der­ing the union’s orga­niz­ing cam­paign, she said. Hyat­t’s ten­ta­tive offer to increase the hir­ing of per­ma­nent work­ers is a step in the right direc­tion, Lin­go added, but Hyatt needs to make a more explic­it com­mit­ment in addi­tion to sign­ing a neu­tral­i­ty agree­ment with Local 7.

Hyatt’s recent soft­en­ing may be relat­ed to wide­spread reports that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma intends to appoint Hyatt heiress Pen­ny Pritzk­er as U.S. Sec­re­tary of Com­merce . Pritzk­er, daugh­ter of Hyatt co-founder Don­ald Pritzk­er, has been a finan­cial sup­port­er of Oba­ma for years, but has also been crit­i­cized for her indif­fer­ence to union issues inside the fam­i­ly busi­ness. Worse, Pritzk­er is close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with efforts to under­mine teach­ers unions, espe­cial­ly the Chica­go Teach­ers Union.

The finan­cial con­nec­tion between the vast Pritzk­er fam­i­ly for­tune and the top lead­er­ship of the nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty was far from the scene, how­ev­er, at the March 14 hear­ing at Baltimore’s City Hall. Instead, the focus was on the day-to-day prob­lems of work­ers at the Hyatt hotel. 

Char­lotte Knox, for exam­ple, tes­ti­fied that work­ing con­di­tions at the Hyatt Regency have gone down­hill over the last 10 years. A house­keep­er at the hotel since 1984, she told the com­mit­tee mem­bers that cur­rent man­agers are dri­ving down earn­ings for the work­ers who do the hard work of clean­ing the rooms and tak­ing care of the build­ing.

Like­wise, Regi­na Davis stood up to chal­lenge Hyatt cor­po­rate man­agers. With three years as a ban­quet serv­er at the down­town hotel, she pro­claimed, A change needs to be made in the city of Bal­ti­more. I believe that a change at Hyatt can be the beginning.”

Jeff Nel­son, research direc­tor at UNITE HERE, not­ed that city lead­ers have a lot of pow­er here” based on legal com­mit­ments reach­ing back to 1979 that oblige Hyatt to hire per­ma­nent rather than tem­po­rary staff, in return for the city’s help in get­ting a fed­er­al grant for the hotel’s orig­i­nal devel­op­ment. Hyatt has vio­lat­ed the agree­ments, that’s clear,” Nel­son said.

Hyatt also broke faith with the city’s labor lead­ers 30 years ago when it vio­lat­ed a hand-shake” agree­ment not to sup­press an ini­tial union orga­niz­ing dri­ve, tes­ti­fied Ernie Grec­co, long-time pres­i­dent of Met­ro­pol­i­tan Bal­ti­more Coun­cil of the AFL-CIO. He added that all mem­ber unions of the Bal­ti­more AFL-CIO are strong­ly in sup­port of UNITE HERE and the coun­cil resolution.

Grec­co also warned the coun­cil mem­bers that the glob­al boy­cott against Hyatt could hurt busi­ness at the Inner Har­bor and reduce tax income to the city. Hyatt cur­rent­ly pays some $4.2 mil­lion in local tax­es, accord­ing to city records, almost half of which comes from the room tax charged to trav­ellers who stay at the hotel. I can tell you that there are some unions won’t come here” for meet­ings or con­ven­tions, because of the labor prob­lems, he said.

Coun­cil­woman Mary Pat Clarke (D) con­clud­ed the hear­ing with a pledge of quick action by the full coun­cil, per­haps as ear­ly as this week. Hyatt’s labor prob­lems hurts the city,” she said, and elect­ed offi­cials will take action.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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