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Nationwide Boycott of Hyatt Hotels Launched; LGBT and Feminist Organizations Join Unions to Fight for Workers

Hyatt's horrible working conditions for housekeepers have long made headlines, but now workers are taking the next step and calling for a national boycott.

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These claims are all beside the point when Hyatt fires workers and replaces them with cheaper housekeepers from temporary employment agencies, as happened to the Boston 100 in 2009. Housekeeper Wanda Rosario says of her experiences as one of the housekeepers caught in the firing sweep: “They treated me like trash, like garbage...these people don’t treat me like a human being.” Boston isn’t the only locale where the chain has chosen to rely on contract workers instead of paid employees, and in Indianapolis, Hyatt was even involved in a suit filed by temporary workers who weren’t fully paid for their labour.

Jones wants more people to be aware of the critical functions provided by housekeepers and other support staff, especially in light of a changing economy. As conversations about outsourcing swirl around the United States, there’s a large block of jobs that can’t be outsourced, and go largely undiscussed. “These workers are invisible, and it’s true. The folks that work in the back of the house...are largely invisible to the general public, but they are in fact the backbone of the hospitality industry. And, like it or not, they represent the new service industry economy of the United States.”

Getting fair working conditions for these workers promotes economic growth, and it’s the right thing to do; hospitality workers deserve an equal footing in society, something other LGBQT organizations like Pride at Work agree upon as well. Jones wants to bring workers and their struggle to the forefront of the public consciousness, but he also wants to do more than that; he wants to directly address the economic inequality faced by workers, including those within the LGBQT community. LGBQT people face a higher poverty rate due to lack of social equality, and fighting for workers’ rights could make a significant impact.

Meanwhile, Jerame Davis of the National Stonewall Democrats references the deep roots of solidarity between the gay and civil rights movement in a support statement: “Our members in more than 80 chapters across the United States respect the historic relationship between a strong Labor movement and achieving LGBT civil rights and will not be silent about Hyatt’s attack on workers.” Historically, LGBQT civil rights and women’s rights movements worked closely with labor, and UNITE HERE is fighting the divergence that began to occur in the latter part of the 20th century.

The group is also joined by labor organizers from other industries, joining hands across trades to promote health and safety for Hyatt housekeepers. Members of the NFLPA speaking up for housekeepers are sending a signal that union members at all levels can work together. Given the amount of revenue they bring in to the hotel trade as they travel for competitions, press events, and other industry-related activities, they represent a sizable force in the boycott as well as an important symbolic one.

With the Hyatt boycott, UNITE HERE hopes to exert more pressure on the chain with a public shaming campaign that will be difficult for the firm to dodge. Union members, students, feminists, LGBQT activists, religious leaders, and others are joining hands in solidarity to make Hyatt accountable for its employment practices and mistreatment of workers, and Hyatt workers are welcoming the support. The broad scope of the boycott reflects the critical need to defend workers to build a stronger society for all of us, and a more just one for workers.

As one Hyatt housekeeper says, “We’re mad and we’re not gonna take it anymore. Hyatt must change. And you can help us by boycotting Hyatt.”

s.e. smith is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Bitch, Feministe, Global Comment, the Sun Herald, the Guardian, and other publications. Follow smith on Twitter: @sesmithwrites.