On Monday, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union announced it would formally oppose the White House’s pick of Penny Pritzker to be the new Commerce Secretary. The Chicago billionaire, a major Obama fundraiser, is set to have a Senate committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
HERE opposes Pritzker, heiress to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, due to longstanding issues they have with the hotel chain, where many of their members work. HERE President Donald Taylor decided to make the announcement when the Senate moved up Pritzker’s confirmation date, the New York Daily News reports:
“We are opposed to the nomination of Penny Pritzker based on what has taken place at Hyatt,” Taylor said in a phone interview.
Taylor had not yet reached Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, to relay word of his move. Trumka has been a strong supporter of a long-standing union boycott against the Hyatt chain.
The union quickly assembled a late afternoon protest rally at the Hyatt that is part of McCormick Place, the large convention center in Chicago.
HERE’s disputes with the hotel chain date to 2009 and the expiration of contracts at those Hyatt hotels that are unionized. There have been many demonstrations nationally related to its outsourcing previously unionized housekeeper positions at hotels in Boston and Baltimore and hiring what the union alleged were often temporary workers paid minimum wages.
The union has also alleged worker safety issues and argues the Hyatt track record run contrary to Obama’s call for more vigilant enforcement of safety regulation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. HERE alleges that housekeepers have been obligated to clean bathroom floors on their hands and knees rather than have access to a mop.
The company has vanquished some attempts to unionize workers at some of its hotels, including a lengthy campaign in San Antonio.
The union’s press release is posted here. In it, HERE argues:
Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst hotel employer in the United States, leading the industry in outsourcing practices that destroy good jobs and hurt housekeepers. In a first for the hotel industry OSHA recently issued a companywide letter to Hyatt warning it of the hazards its housekeepers face on the job.
In Chicago, Hyatt workers have endured a four-year wage freeze amid contract negotiations that have stalled around issues of subcontracting and safer working conditions for housekeepers. In recent months, workers have appealed to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns Hyatt McCormick Place, to push Hyatt to provide wage increases that would give financial relief to workers.
UPDATE: Hyatt Hotel’s statement on their relations with the union:
In 2009, Hyatt entered into negotiations with leaders from UniteHere, a union representing some Hyatt associates, to renew expiring contracts in local markets including Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, among others. Hyatt proposed new contracts with pay raises and benefits increases that matched proposals the union accepted with Hyatt competitors Hilton and Starwood. But instead of allowing Hyatt associates in those markets to vote on these new proposals, UniteHere’s national leaders delayed.
UniteHere, like many unions, is trying to expand its membership. UniteHere slowed negotiations in some cities where it already represented Hyatt associates to gain leverage in its campaign to pressure Hyatt into forfeiting associates’ right to a secret ballot election on union membership – a right employees have had for more than 75 years under the National Labor Relations Act.
Hyatt has a long history of strong relations with its unions and respects the rights of its associates to choose whether or not to join a union. In 2011, Hyatt filed requests with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold secret ballot elections at four hotels in California and Indiana that the union was targeting with organizing efforts, but the union refused to participate.
Instead, UniteHere’s national leaders launched a global campaign against Hyatt that has included a boycott, strikes, intimidation of Hyatt associates and guests, and distortion of the company’s record on workplace satisfaction, safety, diversity, and values.