To protest what it describes as abusive working conditions, a coalition of labor unions and progressive groups including the National Football League Players Association has ramped up a boycott of Hyatt hotels.
Unite Here, the nation’s largest hospitality workers' union, had previously called for boycotts of individual Hyatt hotel properties, but the unveiling of a global boycott campaign at a Monday morning press conference in Washington, D.C., marked an escalation of this effort. Other members of the coalition include the National Organization for Women, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Black Justice Center and Christian and Jewish labor groups. Demonstrations are planned this week for cities across the country, including San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.
Annemarie Strassel, a Unite Here spokeswoman, explained to The Huffington Post the rationale behind building the broad coalition. "There are many LGBT people that work in the hospitality industry; housekeepers are almost exclusively women,” she said. "We’ve been natural allies in terms of working together to improve the standards of work in the service industry and the hotel industry." The football players association could not be immediately reached for comment.
One of the main charges by organizers of the global boycott campaign is that Hyatt's housekeepers are overworked. Strassel pointed to an April letter from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent to the company that references the “presence of ergonomic risk factors associated with housekeeping tasks” in Hyatt’s hotels. While OSHA did not issue a citation, the post-inspection letter is believed to be a first for the hotel industry.
Another complaint is Hyatt’s reliance on temporary labor agencies to provide a low-paid workforce, as HuffPost reported last year. Though Hyatt is not alone in its adoption of this business model, Strassel claimed the hotel chain goes a step further with its "aggressive subcontracting practices."
Three years ago in Boston, for instance, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three nonunion hotels and hired workers from a temporary labor agency. And in Indianapolis, the company has come under fire for its heavy reliance on temp agencies.
In a statement emailed to The Huffington Post responding to a request for comment on the boycott, Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources, accused the union of having ulterior motives. "The UniteHere campaign is not about creating a better workplace at our hotels, but is an attempt to boost union membership by organizing associates at non-union Hyatt hotels through a non-democratic and intimidating process,” Patrick said. "At Hyatt, the satisfaction and wellbeing of our associates is fundamental to the success of our business because they are the ones who provide hospitality to our guests. Hyatt provides industry-leading wage and benefits packages, maintains an outstanding workplace safety record, and is a recognized leader in promoting a diverse workforce.”
But Cathy Youngblood, a housekeeper at a Hyatt hotel in West Hollywood, Calif., claimed the hotel giant mistreats its workers. Youngblood cited Hyatt's opposition to a California bill that would require hotels to use fitted sheets in rooms, which would mean housekeepers would have to lift fewer heavy mattresses. The state's hotel industry has broadly opposed the bill.
“Being a housekeeper is really tough work and it does take a toll on our bodies,” Youngblood told reporters during a conference call on Thursday. She said the work includes pushing heavy carts down carpeted hallways, lifting mattresses to change sheets and scrubbing floors on hands and knees. "We do this over and over again, rushing to get all the work done. Now to most guests and managers, we’re invisible."
Monday's Washington Post carried a full page ad titled "Standing Up for the Rights Of Our Hyatt Associates" that carried the line "We're very proud that Hyatt Hotels are great places to work" and listed recognitions Hyatt facilities have received.