“When I got to work that day, I heard a lot of laughter and jokes, including a manager that was around. When I got up close to look at what they were laughing at, what I saw were a bunch of pictures that were extremely humiliating and shameful. And I just felt so ashamed and humiliated as a woman that I got extremely upset and took down my picture and that of my sister.”
On Oct. 14, two weeks after Martha Reyes tore down the pictures, she and Lorena Reyes were fired from their positions as housekeepers at the Hyatt Santa Clara. Both have worked in hotels for more than two decades.
The pictures that started it all? Cartoon images of skinny white women wearing bikinis, with the faces of the hotel’s housekeepers tacked on.
“The pictures were pictures of women in bikinis with our faces pasted on. To be honest, for me as a woman it was—imagine, I’m a mom of five kids and nine grandkids. To be put in that kind of picture is extremely uncomfortable,” Martha told the Guardian.
When they were fired, the sisters were told that they were wasting company time by combining their ten-minute and lunch breaks. But the sisters believe that they were targeted after Martha tore down the pictures—and later, when confronted by a superior who demanded the images back, refused to return them.
As for the too-long lunch break claim: “We haven't come across anyone else who's been fired for it,” said Adam Zapala, an attorney with the firm Davis, Cowell, and Bowe, who is representing the sisters. “So it raises the suspicion in our mind.”
As we reported in November, the sisters have filed complaints against the hotel with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are asking for their jobs back and for back pay, saying they were wrongly terminated.
The complaints are specific to the Reyes’s case. On March 8, UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents Hyatt workers in several Bay Area hotels, will push back at Hyatt on a different level.
The group is planning an International Women’s Day protest at the Grand Hyatt in Union Square.
“On March 8, 1911, garment workers, all women, took to the streets demanding a 10 hr work day and an end to child labor. It was after that year that people started to celebrate March 8 as International Working Women’s Day. This action comes out of that tradition,” explains Julia Wong, an organizer with UNITE HERE.
International Women's Day no longer specifically honors workers. But the bikini pictures bring up an issue that affects all women; sexual objectificaion.
“It’s making fun of what women’s bodies look like, sexualizing them, in an industry where its not safe to be sexualizing housekeepers,” said Wong, referring to widespread sexual harassment of hotel housekeepers. The extent of this issue was revealed to a degree last year in the aftermath of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.
“It’s really a fight for women’s rights in the workplace,” said Wong.