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Hyatt workers strike for new contract, health care

Published Nov 11, 2009 11:34 AM

A few hundred hotel workers walked off the job Nov. 5 at the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square, beginning a three-day strike against Hyatt Hotels Corporation. The strikers are demanding an immediate contract after working without one since August. Coincidentally, the same day the strike started, Hyatt made an initial public stock offering to raise about $1 billion for its major owners, the Pritzker family.

WW photo: Joan Marquardt

Said Aurolyn Rush, a telephone operator for 13 years at this Grand Hyatt, “Hyatt’s cashing out almost a billion dollars for its owners, but at the same time they’re pushing to make health care unaffordable for me and my family. That is unforgivable, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

While the high-end hotel industry made record profits of approximately $110 billion between 2004 and 2008, Hyatt is attempting to keep up its high profit margin during the current worldwide economic crisis at the expense of the workers. Mike Casey, president of the union on strike, UNITE-HERE Local 2, said, “This is a limited strike. It’s intended to send a clear signal to this corporation that it cannot use a temporary downturn to permanently drive down workers’ living standards.”

According to a union press release, the Hyatt CEO was paid $6.7 million in compensation in 2008; the corporate chair, on top of his high compensation, got a bonus of $1.4 million. The union added, “Hyatt has distinguished itself for its pursuit of profit at any price. In Boston, for example, Hyatt recently fired all housekeepers at its three non-union hotels, replacing them with outsourced workers paid about half of what the fired workers had earned.”

On Nov. 6 almost all the striking workers marched together around the hotel and Union Square itself, chanting, “All day, all night, Local 2 is on strike!” and “If we don’t get a contract, you won’t get no peace!” The chants referred to complaints of noise because vocal strikers are on picket line duty both day and night, which forced some guests to check out and move into hotels blocks away.

As wealthy tourists arrived and entered the hotel lobby, the workers chanted extra loudly, “Shame on you!” When a local pizza delivery person entered the lobby, the workers pointed and said, “Look at the new Room Service!” To the out-of-town Hyatt managers brought in to try to do the jobs of the striking workers, the picketers chanted, “Scab, scab!”

During the three-day strike, union workers at the 30 other high-end hotels remained on the job, although job actions, including a strike, remain possible union tactics until contract negotiations produce a reasonable offer from the hotel owners. For more information, visit unitehere2.org.