Hyatt threatens to cut off workers’ healthcare

After more than two years of bargaining, contract negotiations between Hyatt Hotels and members of UNITE HERE Local 1 hit a crisis point last Monday when Hyatt threatened to cut off health benefits unless workers give up their fight and abandon their boycotts. In response, hotel workers, religious leaders, and health advocates are holding a press conference in front of Hyatt Hotels’ global headquarters to denounce Hyatt for forcing workers to choose between their families’ immediate medical needs and a fight for their long-term survival.

“My son has suffered from chronic ear problems ever since he was a baby and is scheduled to go into surgery this month. Now Hyatt is asking me to decide between my son’s health and a future where I could lose my job,” says Cristian Toro, who has worked as a banquet server at the Hyatt McCormick Place for eight years.

On November 21, 2011, Hyatt negotiators first officially informed the Union of their intent to cut health benefits, with an insurance cut-off going into effect on December 31, 2011. On Tuesday evening, November 29, Hyatt officials informed the Union that they would postpone the cut-off date by 60 days, extending coverage until the end of February.

In the last two years of contract negotiations, Hyatt has refused to budge on crucial demands to curb subcontracting and ease working conditions for housekeepers—demands met by Hilton and other hotel employers citywide. In response, Hyatt workers have held several limited-duration strikes and called for boycotts of their hotels. Over $20 million in group bookings have pulled out from boycotted Hyatt hotels nationwide.

This is not the first instance of Hyatt’s labor controversies. In July, Hyatt turned heat lamps on striking workers at the Park Hyatt Chicago during a brutal heat wave. 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 earning minimum wage.

“It’s obscene to use the right to healthcare as a bargaining point,” says Dr. Quentin Young, a healthcare advocate who was once the personal physician of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “In this economy, to throw healthcare costs on workers on top of everything else is unfair. As a doctor I call on all medical professionals to honor the Hyatt boycotts.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 and Local 450 represent approximately 1,500 workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt, Hyatt McCormick Place, and Hyatt Regency O’Hare. Contracts for area Hyatt workers expired on August 31, 2009. Since then, area Hyatt workers have carried out several limited duration strikes and other demonstrations, including a weeklong strike in September 2011.