Chicago Hyatt workers vote overwhelmingly to strike

Facing prospect of a “permanent recession” as billionaire Hyatt owners prosper, area hotel workers gear up for strike

(Chicago, IL) – On July 29, 2010, UNITE HERE Local 1 members working at four area Hyatts—the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt, Hyatt McCormick Place, and Hyatt O’Hare—voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 92% voting in favor of striking. The vote represents a major escalation of a citywide labor dispute among Chicago’s downtown hotels and with Hyatt in particular, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks. The vote authorizes the rank-and-file bargaining committee to call a strike, if necessary.

Hyatt workers and 6,500 other hotel workers in downtown Chicago have been in citywide contract negotiations since August of 2009. On May 26, 2010 hundreds of workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago walked off the job in protest of poor working conditions in housekeeping. On July 22, 2010 Hyatt workers and allies took part in a demonstration at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, in coordination with Hyatt protests in 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada.
The strike vote and other job actions by Hyatt workers signal a growing crisis for Chicago-based Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have become a symbol among hotel workers for how the wealthy are trying to take unfair advantage of the recession. Hotel workers in Chicago have endured staff cuts, reduced hours, and excessive injury rates. Frustration among area workers has deepened, as Hyatt has tried to make further job cuts and lock workers into recession contracts that raise family healthcare costs and flatten wages for years to come, even as the economy rebounds.

“The last two years have been really difficult for me,” says Tiffany Pollum, a room attendant at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. “Hyatt laid me off for 8 months, and I have a newborn baby to support. When I finally came back to work, several ladies in my department had thrown out their backs because of the new heavy mattresses and heavier workload at the Hyatt now. What was already a hard job just got harder, and I’m standing up to Hyatt, because their profits are coming back but we’re still in pain.”

While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. The most prominent member of the Pritzker Family is Penny Pritzker, the former national finance chairwoman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She now serves as a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB).

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Hyatt reported that as of March 31, 2010 it had over $1.3 billion in cash available. Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over
15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.
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