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Mopping Up Corporate Greed

Photo credit: UNITE HERE  

Hotel housekeepers around the country have had enough. Yesterday, more than 350 housekeepers and their supporters launched a seven-city nationwide "Hope for Housekeepers" tour.

They kicked it off in Long Beach, Calif., carrying a seven-foot by 60-foot "Hope Quilt" on a mile-long pilgrimage from the Hilton Long Beach to the Hyatt Regency Long Beach to symbolize their struggle for decent working conditions.

"Hope for Housekeepers" is a national movement of women, founded by Hyatt housekeepers across the country, to stop the abuse of women in the hotel industry and bring a message of hope to Hyatt housekeepers and women working as housekeepers across the globe. The tour will travel to San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Antonio, Boston, Indianapolis and Chicago.

As Jane has pointed out, Penny Pritzker, of the massively wealthy Pritzker family who chairs four major corporations, including Hyatt, is a vocal opponent of workers’ freedom to form unions, strongly opposing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Earlier this year, Pritzker joined with other billionaires to fight the Employee Free Choice Act. She told President Obama she is opposed to majority verification (card-check), which would give workers another choice—a labor board election is the other option—when deciding whether to join a union.

Prominent on her personal website is the Prtizker quote:

Some see challenges; I see opportunities and use them to create significant businesses.

Pritzker’s "opportunities" must include firing workers whose salaries enable them to support themselves and their families, because that’s just what Hyatt did in Boston last month: 98 housekeepers, many of them veteran employees who made $15 an hour, were replaced with $8-an-hour "temporary" workers provided by Hospitality Staffing Solutions, an outsourcing company in Atlanta.

Never mind that Hyatt housekeepers often clean as many as 30 hotel rooms a day in just eight hours, and many forgo health insurance for their families because of the high cost, according to UNITE HERE, which represents some of the housekeepers.

Last week, Hyatt offered the housekeepers temporary jobs through the staffing agency at their previous wages, but did not say where or what the jobs would be. The workers rejected that offer.

In fact, in a survey of more than 600 housekeepers by UNITE HERE, some 91 percent of respondents say they have suffered work-related pain. Of those who reported pain in the survey, two-thirds took pain medication to get through their daily quota. In a recent academic study of 50 hotels operated by the top five hotel companies, Hyatt had the highest reported rate of injury for housekeepers in the hotels studied.

Before launching Hope for Housekeepers, UNITE HERE members literally took to the streets (see photo above), engaging in peaceful civil disobedience to express outrage over the Boston firings and protest wage cuts demanded from major hotels in Chicago and San Francisco. In San Francisco, some 1,700 UNITE HERE members and allies took part in the demonstrations last week, and 92 were arrested, while 700 union members participated in a Chicago protest, with 200 arrested.

UNITE HERE contracts covering some 7,500 workers at 37 hotels in Chicago and 9,000 at 32 San Francisco hotels expired in August. Talks are continuing with the largest employers in each city, including Hyatt Hotels Corp., the Blackstone Group and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, all of which operate properties under several different banners.

In San Antonio, workers are asking the city’s mayor to intervene in a dispute with the Grand Hyatt hotel there. The union says management is using anti-union tactics such as intimidation and firings to thwart workers’ freedom to join a union. The Grand Hyatt received some $200 million from the city of San Antonio to get started and build the hotel.

As the housekeepers tell their stories of suffering and struggle throughout the Hope for Housekeepers tour, they are making the centerpiece of their efforts the "Hope Quilt." The quilt stitches together the stories of Hyatt housekeepers and the struggles they endure every day just to provide for their families. Each patch symbolizes a story of pain, injury and even death or miscarriage brought upon by the heavy burden of their workloads.

Some see challenges: Hotel housekeepers see opportunities.

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Tula Connell

Tula Connell