Nationwide Boycott of Hyatt Hotels Launched; LGBT and Feminist Organizations Join Unions to Fight for Workers
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Talking about the campaign in a conference call on Thursday, Kim Gandy of the Feminist Majority Foundation discussed why abuse in Hyatt hotels is a feminist issue, and why she’s calling on feminists to join the boycott. She’s seen an escalating pattern of worker abuse at Hyatt properties that “seems outrageous to us,” and points out that the company is “just out and out firing these women if they dare to complain.”
Gandy won’t be staying at a Hyatt until they clean up their act, and she challenges her fellow feminists to do the same, to stand in solidarity with workers. The situation at Hyatt involves the routine abuse of women who are often afraid to speak out because of their immigration status and desperate need for employment. Bringing the power of the feminist movement to bear on the issue of worker safety and comfort is critical.
Terry O’Neill of the National Organization for Women, issuing a statement in support of the campaign, says: “The National Organization for Women stands in solidarity with Hyatt housekeepers in their campaign for economic justice and safe working conditions. As long as Hyatt continues to abuse its housekeepers and undermine its workers' economic security, we will fight for their rights and their dignity.”
Both women are underscoring a larger and important issue: labor has a place in feminism, and the feminist movement must address labor issues. The mainstream face of the movement has been heavily middle class and white in recent years, with a focus on issues relevant to those members of the feminist community, rather than workers on the ground. Failure to stand in solidarity with low-wage immigrant women has a profound impact on the feminist movement as a whole, not just devaluing the movement’s message, but making it harder for women to organize collectively.
The fact that major feminist organizations are joining the Hyatt boycott could be the start of a signal shift, and major progress in the feminist movement. With big names behind them, workers could be in a much more powerful position to negotiate for safe conditions and fair wages, and to maintain those gains. If support for the boycott indicates that the movement is ready to work with labor, feminists could also start tackling issues like abuse of agricultural workers, unfair conditions for domestic employees, and the use of sweatshop labor in the United States. Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to labor exploitation, and yet, they’ve often been left out of feminist conversations about women in the workplace.
Cleve Jones, a noted LGBQT activist and partner with UNITE HERE, says this is also an issue for his community. He engineered the Sleep With the Right People campaign, which encourages members of the LGBQT community to stay at union hotels and support workers. While representatives of the LGBQT movement are often middle class people who are more likely to stay at than work in hotels, members of the LGBQT community have a particularly important stake in the fight for fair treatment in the hotel industry because so many work in hospitality, from cruise ships to restaurants. Acknowledging this and asking wealthier members of the movement to vote with their wallets has the potential to expand the movement to include working class LGBQT people, some of whom have been alienated by the middle class focus of the movement in recent years. While wealthy members of the elite demand marriage equality, hospitality workers catering to those wedding parties just want a fair wage and a safe place to work.
Hyatt, along with many other hotel and resort firms, advertises heavily to the LGBQT community, taking advantage of the large profits to be made from LGBQT vacationers. Hyatt makes a number of claims about working conditions in its hotels with the intent of appealing to socially-conscious travelers, including claims that workers are provided with benefits. This sort of laborwashing may make Hyatt sound like an ethical place to stay, until you delve beneath the surface.