Hyatt Faces Strikes, Protests in Cities Across North America

by Annemarie Strassel on September 3, 2010

Just days before Labor Day, Hyatt workers in several cities across North America are striking, as part of a wave of demonstrations this week by thousands of hotel workers protesting Hyatt (NYSE: H) and its billionaire ownership family, the Pritzkers. Workers say the company is trying to make the recession permanent for its employees, despite significantly improving industry conditions and Hyatt’s increased profitability and huge cash reserves.

Multi-city strikes at Hyatt properties in Los Angeles, Honolulu, Chicago, and Toronto this week represent a major escalation in a labor dispute involving Hyatt and its billionaire owners — the Pritzker Family — who have been the target of a number of major demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across North America this summer.

Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt wants to take more away and lock workers into recession contracts even as the economy rebounds. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009.

“Life has been very difficult for my family since the Hyatt eliminated my bartending position two years ago,” said Sonia Cruz, a 17-year Hyatt Century Plaza employee in Los Angeles. “I have had to piece together shifts, working in various positions and still most weeks, only getting three days of work. As business improves in the hotel, we want the Hyatt to reinstate our jobs, add shifts to the schedule and let the workers share in the economic recovery.”

The most prominent member of the Pritzker Family is Penny Pritzker, the former national finance for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, who now serves on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). Pritzker also chairs TransUnion, a major credit-reporting company that has come under fire in recent months selling credit information to employers to screen applicants.

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Hyatt reported that as of June 30, 2010 it had over $1.6 billion in cash and short term investments available. Despite a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.

“Workers understand that Labor Day is about more than picnics and parades, it’s about honoring the people who have built this country and make it run,” says John Wilhelm, the President of UNITE HERE. “This Labor Day Hyatt workers are standing up to a company that has taken unfair advantage for too long.”

In 2010, citywide hotel contracts covering 45,000 unionized hotel workers—including thousands of Hyatt workers—in cities across the U.S. and Canada will expire and be subject to bargaining. This week there will be Hyatt protests will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Honolulu, Toronto, Vancouver, Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.

UNITE HERE represents over 250,000 workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries. For more information, contact Annemarie Strassel (312) 617-0495 or visit HotelWorkerRising.org.

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