Hundreds picket Hyatt HQ, protesting threats to cancel healthcare

Thousands could lose coverage under Hyatt’s proposal; Clergy denounce Hyatt’s “harsh tactics”
Hundreds of hotel workers and allies are picketing at Hyatt’s global headquarters today in protest of Hyatt’s proposal to strip health insurance from Chicago hotel workers and their families after more than two years of contract negotiations. Bargaining between Hyatt and the members of UNITE HERE Local 1 hit a turning point in late November after Hyatt threatened to cut off health benefits unless workers give up their fight and abandon their boycotts. Now hotel workers, religious leaders, and health advocates are calling on the company to withdraw its threat to Chicago workers. If Hyatt refuses, thousands of workers and members of their families in Chicago could lose health insurance at the end of February.

“If they take our health insurance away, my kids will suffer,” says Jacqueline Smith, who has worked in the housekeeping department of the Hyatt McCormick Place for the last 10 years and is a single mother of five children—thre e with special needs. “I have heart problems and high blood pressure. If I don’t get my medication or they take away my breathing machine, then I can’t support my family.”
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 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.

“According to Jewish tradition, preventing the healing of the sick is akin to shedding blood,” says Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL, who is participating in today’s protests. “It is truly a shandeh that Hyatt would stoop to these unacceptably harsh tactics as a negotiating ploy.”

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.

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.