Labor & Money Clash in 15 Cities
By Carl Finamore
Submitted to Portside by the author
July 23, 2010
Contracts expire in 2010 for 45,000 hotel workers in ten
cities and, on July 22, several thousand supporters
demonstrated across the U.S. and Canada. This time Hyatt
Hotels were targeted because "Hyatt wants to take more
away and lock workers into recession contracts even as
the economy rebounds," according to the union, UNITE-
Simultaneous protests occurred in Chicago, Honolulu, San
Francisco, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Boston, Vancouver,
Toronto, Miami, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Rosemont, San
Antonio, Santa Clara and San Diego with nearly 1000
activists arrested after engaging in peaceful civil
disobedience blocking hotel entrances.
Apparently, there will be more to come of these
coordinated national actions involving thousands of
members and community allies. They are designed to keep
pace with the expiration of contracts in a growing
number of cities as it becomes clear hotel owners are
stalling negotiations everywhere.
This will allow more hotel union locals to link up with
close to 23,000 workers in San Francisco, Chicago and
Los Angeles whose contracts lapsed almost one year ago.
The union gave a full explanation for this important
escalation of tactics and strategy: "Nationwide, the
hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than
expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and
2012. [Yet], hotels are still squeezing workers and
cutting staff. More than 115,000 jobs in the hotel
industry have been cut since the recession began in
2008-46,000 of which have come just in the first quarter
of 2010 as the industry has projected recovery. While
this marks a trend involving several major hotel
companies, Hyatt is the starkest example."
How to Make Money
"I made my money the old fashioned way. I was very nice
to a wealthy relative right before he died," was
famously said by the colorful Malcolm Forbes after he
inherited from his father the equally famous magazine
carrying the family name.
But don't expect owners of the Hyatt Hotels, the
Chicago-based Pritzker family, where inherited wealth
has been passed along over four generations, to be as
brutally honest as the late Mr. Forbes. They
consistently rank among the top ten richest American
families but they may very well be justified claiming
their money was made in another equally reliable old-
fashioned way - by selling high and paying low.
This is certainly the mantra of one of their largest
family assets, the Hyatt Hotels Corporation. It boasts a
portfolio of 434 properties in 45 countries and, with
$1.3 billion, had the most cash on hand of all it
competitors at the end of 2009. The Pritzkers have
always been good, very good, at making money.
They are definitely practiced at selling high. A
minority stake in the Hyatt sold in November 2009 and
earned the family just under one billion dollars. And,
they indeed know how to pay low. Only several months
earlier, minimum-wage replacements were hired to replace
the entire housekeeping staff at their three Boston
"I gave my body-everything I have-to that hotel, and
Hyatt disposed of us like we were trash," said Lucine
Williams, who worked at the Hyatt Regency Boston for 21
years, before being abruptly fired and summarily
replaced on August 31, 2009. UNITE-HERE reports that
Lucine's hotel made a profit of almost $5 million that
In fact, Hyatt management continually cuts staff and
increases workloads at all their hotels. As a result,
the chain had the highest injury rate for housekeepers
last year in an academic study of 50 major hotels
published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine
in February 2010.
Actually, since the late 1980s, the hotel industry as a
whole has steadily reduced employees. The union reports
that in 1988, nearly 71 workers were employed to service
100 occupied guestrooms. Last year, that number was down
to 53 - a 25% reduction.
This is why the industry is poised to make big profits.
Occupancy rates are increasing while the workforce is
not. "Expense reductions have been so dramatic at both
the property and corporate level that even a modest
pick-up in.growth should lead to outsized profit gains."
(Goldman Sachs, 8/9/2009)
How to Win Decent Contracts
The union is sending a clear message, stall negotiations
and there will be increased national coordination of
demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, and
boycotts. This is in addition to the strike weapon which
San Francisco Local 2, whose contracts expired in August
2009, has used both judiciously and effectively.
That local, with 9000 members, has a long history of
mobilizing both its members and community allies. It has
already successfully employed several three-day strikes
of targeted hotels, numerous lobby protests by workers
on lunch breaks and frequent "all-day, all- night
picketing" of eight boycotted venues.
Yet, at the same time, the union is conscious that
victory is more difficult fighting alone in one city, no
matter how bold or militant. Members are also very clear
about this from their experiences dealing with these
giant investment conglomerates who have continuously
rebuffed local efforts to achieve a decent contract.
"These are multi-national corporations, so, standing
together with workers in other cities is key to
defending our livelihoods," said Local 2 Press
Coordinator, Riddhi Mehta.
Thus, the stage is set for more national clashes between
the hotels and labor, in the most old-fashioned of ways,
with each mobilizing its own precious resources; one
measured in cash, the other in people. Only this time,
hotel workers have turned their adversaries' chief
weapon against them - more management stalling of
negotiations locally means more union allies coming
Carl Finamore was among 152 arrested in front of the San
Francisco Grand Hyatt as another 1200 marched around the
hotel. He is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor
Council, AFL-CIO, from Air Transport Employees, Local
Lodge 1781, IAMAW. He can be reached at