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article imageHotel workers want a seat at the Hyatt Board of Directors meeting Special

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By Jonathan Farrell     Dec 14, 2012 in Business
San Francisco - A stay at a luxury hotel is a special treat anyone would enjoy. Ultra comfortable beds, thick thirsty towels and lots of amenities here and there in the room to make a guest's stay memorable. Yet, little thought is given to those who make the room comfy.
Over 500 people showed up at a protest rally outside the Hyatt Hotels in San Francisco and Santa Clara, CA on Dec. 13. Spokeswoman for Unite Here, Local 2, Julia Wong, talked with this reporter while on assignment for the Peninsula Progress about a dispute workers have with Hyatt. A protest rally was staged in an effort to get Hyatt officials to listen and to allow a representative from among the hotel workers to be at the Board of Directors meetings. Wong clarified, "The Hyatt at Union Square is unionized, the one in Santa Clara is not," she added. "Hyatt has been most abusive towards workers," she said. In more than one instance especially here in Santa Clara, Hyatt has required cleaning staff to clean and change bedding for as many as 30 rooms in a shift. "That's double the amount in an average work-shift, usually that is about 15 rooms."
Wong noted that many of the rooms in the Hyatt accommodations provide the extra pillows, ultra-plush luxury mattresses and added amenities. All these take up extra time and are an effort to clean and prepare thoroughly. "Many of these workers can easily hurt their backs or strain their shoulders lifting these extra thick heavy mattresses."
"Some of these conditions and issues could easily be resolved with basic common sense," said Wong. Use of mops with extended poles and squeezing grips to make cleaning floors more worker-friendly and also efficient. Wong noted that in some instances workers are on their hands and knees trying to clean floors thoroughly and quickly to meet the imposed quota of 30 rooms or more in a given work shift. Wong mentioned other instances were Hyatt participated in violating policies regarding the E-Verify employment eligibility verification program.
"Hyatt has already received at least 18 citations,” noted Wong. The Unite Here labor union represents 250,000 hospitality workers from housekeeping staff and janitors to bell hops, desk clerks, kitchen prep and line cooks, nationwide and in Canada. Unite Here organized a "national week of action," boycott.
On Dec. 11, Unite Here labor union, workers and their supporters submitted a request to officials at the Hyatt corporate headquarters in Chicago. Workers are asking that someone who represents them be part of the Board of Directors meetings held on a regular basis.
In such a large company as Hyatt with hotels, facilities and accommodations all over the world, Unite Here and others think that workers should also have a seat at the board meetings. Hyatt hotel workers are also holding similar rallies in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Antonio, Baltimore and Honolulu.
Protest rallies were organized for the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco near Union Square and at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara that is near Great America amusement park. Both locations are major tourist and visitor destinations. "What people often don't realize is that these workers like working in the hospitality industry and want it to be a job that earns a living wage and where they can support their families," she said.
Wong noted that the worst thing Hyatt did to deal with worker's complaints and issues was to dismiss permanent long-time housekeeping staff and replace them with temporary sub-contract workers. Wong did not know for certain if any of the dismissed workers received any severance pay. Yet she did emphasize how unfair and greedy this course of action has been on the part of Hyatt.
Wong also noted that this practice of terminating long-time staff in favor of temp workers started about three years ago. "I can't say exactly what is it that prompted Hyatt officials to initiate this practice," said Wong. (Could it have been a result of the impact of the economic recession?), Wong only speculates that in the quest for more profits and expansion, "Hyatt thinks they can get a way with it."
Wong and others like the worker-advocate organization Jobs With Justice, point out that by hiring temp sub-contract workers this only creates uncertainty and unfair working conditions. "Temp workers are paid barely minimum wage, they have no benefits, and because they are 'sub-contractors' they can be dismissed at whim for any reason.
"This type of attitude and practice on the part of Hyatt makes a decent job into a dead end job," she said. "There is no excuse for this, it is totally unfair," said Wong.
But representatives speaking on behalf of the hotel giant noted, "Unite Here also refused to let the Hyatt associates they already represent in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Waikiki vote on new contracts that contain the same wage and benefits terms the union accepted at other major hotel companies."
This past summer Hyatt issued a statement on July 25, noting that Unite Here union was cited for "bargaining in bad faith" by the National Labor Relations Board, SF Chapter. Citation was issued back in 2010 because of "Collective Bargaining” and an inability to coordinate more meeting times.
Wong in response pointed out, “labor unions engage in this type of bargaining." "We have been in negotiations with Hyatt since 2009.” “We remedied the lapses in scheduling meetings, that was a small technical issue,” she said. “Bottom line really is that negotiation efforts won’t budge because Hyatt will not listen,” said Wong.
Hyatt officials say it is Unite Here that is being unfair and views the labor union's tactics as having a "systematic disregard for fair negotiating." Both Russ Melaragni, VP of labor relations for the Hyatt and David Nadelman, general manager for the Grand Hyatt in SF said that staff do deserve a raise in pay. Yet the negotiation "games" the Unite Here organizers play delay the process placing pressure on other Hyatt locations and their workers to accept this method of forced sign up organizing, noted Melaragni.
In response to the worker appointed rep at board meetings, Katie Rackoff who serves as Director, Corporate Communications at Hyatt headquarters in Chicago said, “there is a well-established process for any stockholder to nominate a candidate for Hyatt’s Board of Directors. And, the outcome of that process is decided by Hyatt stockholders; not by Hyatt management,” she said.
Wong noted that the hotel workers have the endorsement of the NFL, NOW and other organizations. Nedelman also stated that Unite Here labor union 'leadership isn't interested in doing the right thing for their members by agreeing to the same contract they have signed with other hotels." Other hotels the labor union has negotiated with on behalf of members is Hilton and Starwood Properties. As Hyatt officials see it, that undermines the credibility of the union's claims about the workplace and practices. Hyatt officials as a result question the sincerity of union leaders and their actions. Are they truly acting in the best interest of those labor union members they represent?
Rackoff said that it was Unite Here that caused rift in negotiations. She also noted that “Grand Hyatt San Francisco was recognized as one of the ‘Best Places to Work in the Bay Area 2012’ by the San Francisco Business Times, and Hyatt Regency Santa Clara was selected in 2012 and 2011 by vote of associates as a ‘Top Workplace for the Bay Area’ by the Bay Area News Group.”
In the official statements released by Hyatt to the press and the statement sent to this reporter directly, there was no mention of "sub-contracting." Hyatt reiterates its commitment to fairness.
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