Chicago Hyatt workers call for boycott

Over 250 Rabbis and other Jewish leaders nationwide sign onto pledge in support

(Chicago, IL) – Today, UNITE HERE Local 1 members are gathering in front of Hyatt Global Headquarters in Chicago to call for a boycott at several area Hyatt Hotels—the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the Hyatt O’Hare, and the Park Hyatt. Hyatt workers will be joined by Jewish allies, who are releasing a pledge signed by over 250 Rabbis and other Jewish leaders nationwide in support of Hyatt workers across North America. The boycott and national pledge represent the latest escalation of a labor dispute with Hyatt, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks.

The boycott announcement comes almost one year after union contracts with Hyatt in Chicago have expired (Aug. 31, 2009). Hyatt workers have taken several actions in recent months, including a work stoppage on May 26, 2010, a picket of Hyatt’s annual shareholders meeting on June 9, 2010, a massive demonstration outside the Hyatt Regency Chicago on July 22, 2010, and a strike vote on July 29, 2010. Hyatt protests in Chicago have been echoed by other major demonstrations this summer in 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

The three Hyatt boycotts in Chicago, which join seven other active boycotts of Hyatt properties nationwide, 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 even as the economy rebounds.

“My husband works in the laundry and he was laid off, which has made things very difficult for my family,” says Carmen Sandoval, who has worked at the Hyatt O’Hare as a room attendant for 30 years. “I have also had many injuries over the years working in housekeeping, and I am calling for a boycott today because my family has suffered enough. We cannot allow Hyatt owners with their billions to use the economy as an excuse to make life even harder for us for years to come.”

While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. Penny Pritzker, the former national finance chairwoman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, who now serves as a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). Hyatt reported that as of June 30, 2010 it had over $1.6 billion in cash and short term investments 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.
“Justice for workers is part of the very DNA of Jewish tradition – and American Jews, we have a deep attachment to the history of the labor movement in this country,” says Rabbi Brant Rosen of Chicago. “Although these issues might not affect our community as directly as they used to, Jews still have a sacred responsibility to stand in solidarity with American workers whenever and wherever they are being treated unjustly.”

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.