Hotel workers are filing charges with the government against Hyatt for turning heat lamps on striking workers at the Park Hyatt Chicago during a brutal heat wave that swept the region last Thursday, July 21. After nearly two year of contract negotiations, hotel workers went on strike in protest of Hyatt’s abuse of housekeepers and the company’s ability to outsource jobs.
Ten heat lamps in the awning above the Park Hyatt front entrance were turned on striking workers when the strike began Thursday morning and were left on for about an hour. Heat lamps were turned off shortly after reports about them surfaced in the press. That day, an excessive heat warning was issued by the National Weather Service, with heat index readings climbing above 100 degrees in downtown Chicago. Hyatt released a public statement the following day, admitting that a manager was responsible for turning heat lamps on striking workers.
Charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing housekeepers, dishwashers, bellmen and other hotel workers at the Park Hyatt Chicago, contend, “The employer assaulted the employees and tried to fry them by shining heat lamps on them in the middle of what was already a hot, humid day.”
“They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing,” said Linda Long, a cook at the Park Hyatt. “If the heat didn’t kill us, the heat lamps would.”
Nationwide, Chicago-based Hyatt has stirred controversy for its abuse of housekeepers and for replacing long-term employees with workers from temporary agencies at far lower rates of pay. In Boston, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels, replacing women who had worked at Hyatt for decades with temporary workers at far lower rates of pay. Housekeepers at some Hyatts clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is typically required at union hotels. In Chicago, workers say Hyatt has not adequately addressed their concerns about housekeeping workload and subcontracting at the negotiating table.
“Many of my coworkers are getting hurt—hurting their wrists or backs lifting heavy mattresses or slipping on wet floors—and Hyatt is ignoring our pain,” says Ofelia Martinez, a housekeeper at the Park Hyatt. “Turning the heat lamps on us is just another example of how Hyatt abuses us.”
Academic studies have shown housekeeping to be dangerous work that can lead to debilitating injuries. In a study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine examining a total of 50 hotel properties from 5 different hotel companies, Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate of all housekeepers studied by hotel company.