Labor & lawyering: the Hyatt 100

Published 08 December 09 05:01 PM | bethcompa

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One panel in the works for RebLaw, "Organized Labor in Our Age: Is there still a seat at the table for unions in the future of the American workforce?" will examine the changing make-up of unions in the US and the role lawyers can play in defending workers' rights. We look forward to a robust discussion with labor lawyers at unions and firms, as well as a labor historian. In the mean time, an incredibly compelling story has been in progress over the past few months in Boston.

The Hyatt 100 is a group of former housekeeping employees of three major Hyatt hotels in the Boston area. These workers, many of whom had been in their jobs for years or decades, were asked to train temporary workers in the late summer. Sensing something strange about training so many temps, some employees asked their managers what this push was all about. The managers reassured them that their jobs were not in jeopardy and they were simply training temporary workers to fill in when regular employees took time off or were sick.  In fact, however, the housekeepers were gathered together one morning and told that the workers they had just trained would be permanently replacing them.

Hyatt attributed this "restructuring" move to "challenging economic conditions"; the chain has faced declining revenue in recent months. Their incentive was to get rid of employees who made well over the minimum wage and had benefits in order to replace them with temps who would earn nearly half the hourly rate with no benefits. In other words, all the workers get screwed.

Meanwhile, Hyatt's higher-ups aren't quite hurting: "According to Bloomberg News and other sources in the business press, Hyatt earned $1.09 Billion on the sale of 44 Million shares of stock [in November]." (Source.)

These 100 housekeeping employees were not unionized and it initially appeared -- and Hyatt counted on this -- that they would have no recourse. But they reached out to Unite Here Local 26, which organized a protest a couple weeks after the firing to gin up negative publicity for Hyatt. (The Boston Globe has been covering this story extensively.) A public outcry went up, and cries for a boycott rang out. Individuals and organizations condemned the company's actions. Hyatt scrambled to find a way to save face.

Hyatt 100 and Local 26 protest at the Hyatt

"Several hundred hotel workers and their supporters turned out yesterday for a raucous rally in front of the Hyatt Regency Boston for the 100 housekeepers who were fired by the hotel chain. Politicians called for businesses to boycott the Hyatt, and workers banged on drums, rattled detergent bottles filled with rocks, and chanted 'Hyatt, shame on you' as they marched in front of the hotel with picket signs." (Source.)

More than two months since this effort got underway, the fate of the Hyatt 100 remains unclear. Hyatt has offered "alternative employment" with another temporary staffing firm. (As one former Hyatt employee points out, "We don’t want [temp jobs] from Hyatt. Because I think that is really unfair. Because we’re going to do to the other people the same thing Hyatt is doing to us.") 

Meanwhile, the governor and others have called for full reinstatement. Protests continue. The holidays approach, and the stipends Hyatt offered to the dismissed employees dwindle.

Local 26 continues to agitate on behalf of the Hyatt 100, and hotel workers across the country have taken up their cause.

Join us at RebLaw to discuss the Hyatt 100 and the challenges -- and imperatives -- to organizing service workers and other emerging sectors.


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