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Hyatt Hotel Housekeepers, Fired After Protesting Sexual Harassment, Rally for Better Treatment

Hyatt has a funny way of showing appreciation for its housekeepers; first it tapes their faces onto pictures of bikini-clad babes, and then it fires them.

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With a power imbalance this extreme, it is almost inevitable that charges were dropped, but they did spark an international conversation. Diallo’s experiences led to a campaign to provide hotel workers with panic buttons so they could summon assistance in the event of assault. And they were also a lingering reminder of the dangers of speaking up about sexual harassment when you are in a socially disadvantaged position.

Like Nafissatou, Martha and Lorena Reyes are going up against an institution much more powerful than they are, and their union backing is a big part of why they’ve managed to make any headway. With the strength of a union, workers can rely on assistance and support from organizers and fellow members interested in advocating for their rights and making sure they aren’t trampled. This is one reason many large employers, like the Hyatt hotel chain, fear unionization.

Hyatt’s response has veered from polite refusals to comment to a unionbashing campaign that also attempts to undermine the Reyes sisters and their case. Peter Hillan, a spokesperson for Hyatt, seems to relish any opportunity for trashing unions in front of the media, and has accused UNITE HERE of “using falsehoods and extortions as they try and grow their membership at non-union hotels.” Hyatt should have nothing to fear from the union if it’s committed to providing workers with a safe, clean, supportive environment, which begs the question: Why is Hyatt so eager to keep unions out of its member hotels?

And why is Hyatt so eager to appropriate International Women’s Day? Possibly in anticipation of the planned action in front of the Hyatt Santa Clara on March 8, the hotel has put up a Rosie the Riveter poster in the employee area, complete with speech bubble: “Hyatt celebrates women at work. March 8!” The chain is effectively repurposing a holiday originally dedicated to the celebration of working women.

All the Reyes sister want are their jobs back, with back pay. Like other workers in the United States, Martha and Lorena Reyes just want a steady job and human dignity, and they’re being joined by growing numbers of supporters incensed at their treatment by the hotel chain, as well as Hyatt’s reaction. This includes a coalition of academics, including women’s studies professors and others interested in addressing social inequality, who have issued a solidarity pledge which they’ve asked others to sign. Their letter includes a direct discussion of the harmful conditions experienced by Hyatt employees, demanding change for housekeepers across the country:

The sexualization of housekeepers by Hyatt management is an appalling expression of power that has no place at work. It has tangible physical as well as psychological impacts. It belongs to a long list of well-documented abusive and unsafe practices that Hyatt housekeepers, many of them women of color, all over the country endure.

The outpouring of support has been gratifying for Martha and Lorena Reyes. Speaking about the upswell of support and the people she’s met while campaigning, Martha said that she’s “extremely happy and glad to know that there are good-hearted people in the world, and to have met so many people in the world with good hearts.” Lorena added: “And that’s why we’re out there talking about what happened to us, because it’s important for people to know.”

Organizers are marching in support of the Reyes sisters on Thursday, March 8, in San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Santa Clara action is taking place at the Hyatt Regency from 8am to 10pm, and will include a delegation of representatives who plan to enter the hotel to repeat the demand that Martha and Lorena Reyes be reinstated. In San Francisco, organizers will meet at the Grand Hyatt in Union Square at noon for a short speaking program that will include a domestic worker and Patty Bellasalma, President of California NOW.

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