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Why Boycotting Hyatt Is More Than Just a Union Issue: An Interview With Activist Cleve Jones

Labor must demonstrate that the well-being of all Americans depends upon the fight for dignified working conditions, living wages and necessities like health care.

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"This campaign is also about immigration, because the hotels are one of those places where the latest wave of immigrants is exploited. And it is about health care, because one of the big issues for workers in both union and non-union hotels is access to affordable, quality health insurance. I wear many hats, and the HIV/AIDS activist part of me is very aware that there are a significant number of people living with HIV who are working in this industry. When they can't afford health care, that's a big deal for me."

I asked Jones to speak more about how he decided to invest himself in labor organizing. He spoke of a personal experience from a past campaign against Hyatt:

"For me, what really brought it home was the situation with the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego," Jones said. "It's one of the largest Hyatt properties in the world, it's a non-union hotel, and, like so many hotels today, it has a complex structure. The land that it sits on is owned by the people of San Diego; the building is owned by a local businessman named Doug Manchester; and the hotel is operated by the Hyatt Corporation."

"In that situation, the owner of the building, Mr. Manchester, contributed $125,000 to help underwrite the signature campaign that put Proposition 8 on the ballot. That ballot measure stripped same-sex couples of their right to marry in the state. Hyatt refused to disavow that relationship or take any steps to show support for marriage equality. So, we put together a very powerful coalition in San Diego, which included the Latino community, immigrant rights workers, the LGBTQ community and the labor council. We ended up pulling millions of dollars of convention business out of that hotel. It was a really powerful example of the usefulness of coalition building and of the efficacy of a well-run, well-coordinated boycott effort."

Emphasizing that coalitions allow for a wider sense of common self-interest, Jones made an important point about how everyone benefits from labor's success.

"This doesn't just go in one direction, towards benefitting the union," he said. "Here in California, after our defeat on Proposition 8, we were made painfully aware of the reality that the LGBTQ community had not been successful in creating a dialogue with immigrant communities, with working people of faith, with racial and ethnic minority communities. That showed in the polls. Now, it wasn't like FOX News portrayed it: a wholesale rejection of [marriage] equality by African-American and Latino voters. But clearly, we had work that needed to be done."

"So, in the union, UNITE HERE in particular, that is who we represent. So many of our members are immigrants and people of color. We have a union that's working at every opportunity to advance the cause of working families, but also a union that has fully embraced LGBTQ equality."

I asked Jones about other campaigns that have taken place over the years that might be models of coalition-building for the Hyatt Hurts campaign.

"I've noticed that a lot of young people are very skeptical of the boycotts," he said. "I am skeptical of the ones that just emerge in the moment and get a few headlines. I can think of one right now having to do with a certain purveyor of chicken products," he joked, referring to the PR campaign against Chick-fil-A.

"But for a boycott to really have an impact, first of all, it has to be staffed. You have to take it seriously. You have to have people that are really driving it and doing the work. Because the media is very fickle."

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