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Union unites with LGBTQ groups to target hotel

Published Jun 10, 2010 12:34 PM

A powerful and historic alliance has developed here between hotel and restaurant workers represented by UNITE HERE and the lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer community, through support and struggle for each other’s causes.


UNITE HERE, which represents 300,000 workers, has been waging a heroic but tough battle with the Hyatt hotel chain. Hyatt has been conducting a brutal campaign to slash wages and triple medical insurance costs, effectively putting health care out of the reach of most of the workers.

In Boston, Hyatt’s management forced room attendants to train temporary workers. They then fired all 100 of the regular attendants and replaced them with the temporary workers, who were paid half the union workers’ wages and received no benefits.

The Boston Hyatt workers responded by calling for a boycott of Hyatt hotels. UNITE HERE has taken this up and is organizing internationally in support. In San Francisco, the union is conducting a boycott of nine Hyatt hotels and their affiliates. The list of targeted hotels may grow in an effort to defend the workers’ basic rights.

The Hyatt Corp. has also been guilty of attacking communities of oppressed workers, including the LGBTQ communities in California. For instance, Doug Manchester, who owns the San Diego Hyatt hotel, gave $125,000 to put the anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8 on the ballot.

Determined to challenge Hyatt, LGBTQ organizations have united with union workers to mobilize the LGBTQ community in support of the Hyatt boycott. UNITE HERE and the LGBTQ community have combined campaigns to form Sleep with the Right People. Among the organizers and initiators is Cleve Jones, a founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and an organizer of the successful Coors boycott, as well as a close collaborator with Harvey Milk. (See sleepwiththerightpeople.org.)

In San Francisco, this strong alliance inspired a spontaneous and creative way to express the campaign’s message. Groups such as San Francisco Pride at Work/HAVOQ, One Struggle One Fight and the Brass Liberation Orchestra have been organizing “flash mob infiltrations” of Hyatt hotels.

On May 8, a large group marched into the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco and performed an exciting musical and dance adaptation of Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance,” reworded to say, “Don’t be caught in a bad hotel.” This audacious action right in the hotel’s grand lobby, in front of scores of guests, supported the workers’ demands and promoted the boycott. Look up “bad hotel” on YouTube to see the video.

Showing the strength of this union/LGBTQ community alliance, UNITE HERE has called on all its locals throughout the U.S. and Canada to organize contingents in their local LGBTQ Pride demonstrations in June. Each local is leafleting their members to build the contingents.

In Boston, Cleve Jones will be one of the Grand Marshals of the Pride Parade. He will march with the UNITE HERE Local 26 contingent. Stonewall Warriors will also be marching with the union’s contingent.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Boston Pride march. As part of Pride’s theme of continuing the fight for rights, the Stonewall Warriors contingent will show solidarity with immigrant workers and all workers, and it will support the Hyatt boycott. The contingent will also support the rights of LGBTQ youth to safe and supportive educational environments and to jobs.

Ed Childs is the chief shop steward for Local 26, UNITE HERE, representing the Harvard University cafeteria workers. Frank Neisser is an organizer and activist with Stonewall Warriors, a Boston LGBTQ activist organization that unites the LGBTQ struggle with those against war, racism, exploitation and injustice.