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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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Hyatt Hotel workers and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith
Photo Credit: UNITE HERE

 
 
 
 

Imagine cleaning thirty hotel rooms in an eight hour shift, struggling with heavy mattresses to make up the beds, kneeling to scrub floors, and pushing heavily-laden cleaning carts through endless corridors. Now think about doing it day after day for years or decades, with limited time off; need a C-section? Your employer expects you back at work three days later. Add sexual harassment to that, along with moves to replace you with cheaper contract workers to cut the hotel chain’s expenses.

You don’t have to imagine any of that if you’re a housekeeper at Hyatt, one of the largest hotel chains in the United States. “Being a housekeeper is really tough work and it does take a toll on your body,” Kathy Youngblood, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood, explains. The company is notorious for its treatment of housekeeping staff, many of whom are immigrant women. Hyatt housekeepers, aided by union UNITE HERE, have been fighting back across the United States, from contract negotiations in Chicago to support for the wrongfully fired Reyes sisters in Santa Clara. They aren’t asking for a massive settlement; all they want is dignity, respect, and safety on the job with fair wages so they can support their families.

On Monday, union UNITE HERE announced it was changing the game in its ongoing fight to make conditions at the Hyatt hotel chain safer, with a nationwide boycott to force the company to change its practices and protect its workers. The organization is calling on supporters across the country to join in refusing to patronize Hyatt properties, and to participate in voting Hyatt the worst employer in the hotel industry. Not only that, but UNITE HERE is joining with seemingly disparate groups ranging from the National Football League Players Association to the National Organization for Women.

The hotel chain has retaliated against UNITE HERE’s organizing with marketing campaigns, union-bashing, and lobbying; one lobbyist fighting housekeepers in California who want fitted sheets to facilitate making beds claimed that housekeepers were incurring injuries from dancing, not from their back-breaking hotel work, for example. Youngblood’s retort? “Honey, after working at Hyatt, my body hurts too much to stand up, let alone dance.”

Demonstrations are planned throughout this week in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Antonio, San Francisco, Phoenix, Seattle, and other major cities. Along with housekeepers, their union supporters, and members of social justice groups, students have solidarity actions planned as well. UNITE HERE is pulling out all the stops with social media as well as on-the-ground actions to get people energized and aware of the ongoing standoff with the hotel chain.

Prior organizing against Hyatt has occurred primarily on a local and regional level, with some solidarity in the wake of specific incidents, such as the unjust firing of staff housekeepers to replace them with temporary workers in Boston and San Francisco; turning heat lamps on workers protesting during contract negotiations in Chicago; or suspending Morena Hernandez for labor organizing in West Hollywood. This escalates the scale considerably. What makes this boycott unique, and important, is not just the national level of the protest.

It’s also the level of coalition-building involved. UNITE HERE isn’t standing alone against Hyatt. They’re joined by major supporters, including not just the NFLPA but feminist and LGBQT leaders who have a vested stake in improving conditions at Hyatt properties as well. These leaders are explicitly examining the issue in the context of their own social movements. The coalition is showing that labor is a critical social issue for everyone, not just the workers involved, and some notable names are involved with the campaign, including the National Organization for Women, National Black Justice Coalition, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Black Justice Leaders, and Pride at Work.