By Brittany Baguio
About 400 hotel workers are wrapping up a three-day strike at the Hyatt Regency that began Tuesday morning to protest increasing workloads and efforts to increase their health care costs. This was the fifth strike UNITE-HERE Local 2, a union comprised of hotel workers in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties, has called during nearly a year of negotiations since the last contract expired for 9,000 San Francisco hotel employees.
UNITE-HERE Local 2 initiated the walkout as a way of putting pressure on Hyatt management to offer a fair contract. Although the economy is still lagging, the hospitality industry has remained profitable. Union leaders say that with the cost of living going up, low income wages have made it harder to afford expenses.
The Hyatt Regency released a statement on Tuesday, stating, “Today’s action by Local 2 Leadership is a continuation of the harm they are committing to our associates, the tourism industry, and the city of San Francisco. It has been six months since Local 2 has agreed to return to negotiations. The union should refrain from activities aimed at jeopardizing business in San Francisco during this unprecedented economic downturn and instead expend this energy at the bargaining table, where it belongs.”
Yet union leaders blame management for the continuing labor impasse and they say the Hyatt and other national hotel chains have used the faltering economy as an excuse to justify increasing workloads on hotel employees. According to PKF Hospitality Research, revenue is estimated to grow to 3 percent for the next six months, 12 percent in 2011, and 14 percent in 2012. According to UNITE-HERE financial reports, when the Hyatt became a publicly traded corporation on November 2009, Hyatt owners netted more than $1 billion.
Unite-Here Local 2 representative Riddhi Mehta rejected Hyatt’s claim that the city of San Francisco was hurting in any way. “We’re not launching a boycott of San Francisco, but we’re asking folks to boycott eight specific hotels,” Mehta told the Guardian, “We’ve moved $7 million out of boycotted hotels and the majority of the money has stayed in San Francisco.”
The Grand Hyatt, Westin St. Francis, Palace Hotel, W Hotel, Hilton Union Square, and Hyatt Regency are all on the boycott list. Le Meridien Hotel and Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf are also on Local 2's boycott list, but for a different reason. Workers from these two hotels have been fighting for 2 years to obtain the right to choose whether or not to form a union without any intimidation from management.
The SF strike was one of several used as part of UNITE-HERE's strategy to create a national campaign against Hyatt. Other notable strikes included one that was organized by Local 2 workers from the Grand Hyatt on Union Square and took place the same day Hyatt became a publicly-traded company.
On May 26, 400 hotel workers from the Hyatt Regency in Chicago protested against increasing workloads. Tuesday’s strike occurred a day before Hyatt’s first shareholder meeting in Chicago that was held on Wednesday. The meeting was exclusive to shareholders and banned all media outlets from attending.
Hotel workers and community supporters protested on Wednesday in the cities of San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver, Honolulu, and Los Angeles. In solidarity, these workers hoped to persuade Hyatt majority owners to consider hospitality working conditions.
Mehta said the union's experience in dealing with hotel management from 2004 to 2006, after the last contract impasse, has taught workers that they need to keep the pressure on in order to get a fair contract. “We’re happy to go back to the negotiating table but it’s not worth the time when Hyatt is saying that they don’t have the money. If you look at their financial statements, they have $1.3 billion in cash, but they’re spending money renovating hotels and improving their portfolios.” [Editor's Note: This paragraph was changed from it original version to correct information].
Hyatt Regency workers from the walkout plan to go back to work on Friday.