Hotel workers strike at the Park Hyatt Chicago

After nearly two years of negotiations, housekeepers, dishwashers, bellmen and other hotel workers are going on strike at the Park Hyatt. Hyatt, a company that has more cash on hand than most of its competitors combined, wants to outsource work and impose dangerous working conditions on housekeepers. Today’s strike in Chicago coincides with Hyatt protests led by Hyatt housekeepers in nine cities nationwide, who are stepping out of the shadows to demand an end to the abuses they face at work.

Hotel housekeepers are the invisible backbone of the hotel industry. The grittier aspects of their jobs—the work of scrubbing toilets, changing sheets, and encountering guests alone behind closed doors—are the hidden foundation on which an atmosphere of luxury and comfort are built. Through UNITE HERE, the union representing hotel and other hospitality workers across North America, housekeepers are stepping forward and breaking the silence on the many dangers they face at work.

Nationwide, Chicago-based Hyatt has sparked 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.

“Hyatt abuses housekeepers. They are hoping we will suffer in silence, but today housekeepers are standing up here in Chicago and across the nation,” says Ofelia Martinez, a housekeeper at the Park Hyatt.

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.

“Hyatt is one of the most abusive hotels in their treatment of housekeepers and has the worst record on subcontracting,” says Henry Tamarin, the President of UNITE HERE Local 1. “They refuse to budge on these important issues, and now workers are taking action.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 170 workers at the Park Hyatt. Contracts for Hyatt workers expired on August 31, 2009. A month ago on June 20, workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago also carried out a daylong strike. There have been several other work stoppages at Hyatt in recent months. In May 2010, Hyatt Regency workers—led by more than 100 housekeepers—walked off the job, protesting worsening working conditions in housekeeping after a major hotel renovation. In September 2010, workers at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill. carried out a one-day strike. The strike will last from 7:00am-7:00pm Thursday.