Hotel workers, along with clergy, labor, and community supporters, held a loud and spirited protest Feb. 23 outside the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara, announcing the launch of a boycott of the hotel.
The Grand Hyatt is owned and operated by Hyatt Hotels Corporation. In 2009, the parent company raised more than $1 billion for its principal owners, the Pritzker family, in an initial public stock offering.
"Hyatt doesn't respect our rights," said Leoncia Rodriguez, a housekeeper who has worked at the Hyatt Regency for seven years. "They won't commit to letting us organize freely, without intimidation. In the meantime, we are overworked and we get hurt. This is why we are calling a boycott and letting customers know: Don't eat, meet, or sleep at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara!"
Another hotel worker, who said she made only about $700 every two weeks, told the rally that she could barely afford the cheapest of the group health care options available and still couldn't go to the doctor because she couldn't afford the co-pay.
Union recognition for these workers is especially important in light of the rising cost of living. “State on the road to $4 gas,” the main headline of the San Jose Mercury News warned Feb. 24. The article opens: “Remember predictions just last week that gas prices in California could top $4 a gallon before Memorial Day? Bank on it, and possibly within a few weeks.”
The article goes on to report that spot market prices for unleaded gas in the San Francisco Bay Area had jumped 23 cents the previous two days.
Food prices around the world have also soared in recent weeks, a significant factor fueling the current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and bound to affect workers here as well.
Hotel has refused a fair process
The boycott launch came after Hyatt Regency workers had organized for over two years to secure a fair process in their attempt to form a union. Workers have called for customers to honor the boycott by refusing to book rooms, hold events or spend any money at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara until a fair process is secured.
It was announced at the rally that the hotel could lose an estimated $2 million in revenue from unions, community organizations and church groups that have already pledged to observe the boycott.
According to UNITE HERE Local 19: “Hyatt Regency Santa Clara workers began organizing in 2008 because they face excessive workloads, low wages, lack of respect, and a lack of quality, affordable health care. Housekeepers are expected to clean at least 16 rooms in a single eight-hour shift, making up to 32 beds with 96 pillows and 128 sheets. Many housekeepers surveyed at the Hyatt Santa Clara reported daily workplace pain or injury. The average weekly wage of non-unionized hotel and motel workers in Santa Clara County is a mere $538.”
Hyatt has distinguished itself for its pursuit of profit at any price, the union says. “In Boston, for example, Hyatt fired all housekeepers at its three non-union hotels, replacing them with outsourced workers paid about half of what the fired workers had earned. The company's CEO, meanwhile, was paid $6.7 million in compensation in 2008, and its chairman received a bonus of $1.4 million.”
The turnout for this picket and rally was noticeably larger than for previous actions at the hotel and the chanting more raucous. One veteran activist suggested that we could thank the militant workers' struggle in Wisconsin and other Midwest states in response to attacks by right-wing governors on union rights.
Members of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined the picket and handed out flyers for the upcoming March 19 demonstration in San Francisco headlined “Stop the Wars, Stop the War on Working People Here” and “Fund Jobs, Healthcare & Education, Not War.”