Days before Labor Day, workers facing layoffs and cuts protest how Chicago-based Hyatt and its billionaire owners are taking unfair advantage of tough times
Chicago, IL — Just days before Labor Day, workers at the Hyatt Regency near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport are on strike. Hyatt O’Hare workers join Hyatt workers in several cities across North America who are striking as part of a wave of demonstrations this week by thousands of hotel workers protesting Hyatt (NYSE: H) and its billionaire ownership family, the Pritzkers. Workers say the company is trying to make the recession permanent for its employees, despite significantly improving industry conditions and Hyatt’s increased profitability and huge cash reserves.
Union contracts covering Hyatt O’Hare workers and approximately 8,000 other Chicago-area hotel workers expired on August 31, 2009. On July 29, 2010, hundreds of Hyatt O’Hare workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 450, and UNITE HERE Local 1 members at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt, Hyatt McCormick Place, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 92% voting in favor of striking. The vote represents a major escalation of a citywide labor dispute among Chicago’s downtown hotels and with Hyatt in particular, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks.
“Life has been hard for me and my family, ever since Hyatt laid off my husband in the laundry,” says Carmen Sandoval, a UNITE HERE Local 450 member and room attendant of 30 years at the Hyatt O’Hare outside Chicago, where union contracts expired over a year ago. “Now they have us working harder and faster with fewer people, and people are getting injured. I have to take Tylenol everyday just to get through my shift. I am on strike because I’m tired of billionaires profiting from our pain.”
Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt wants to take more away and lock workers into recession contracts even as the economy rebounds. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. The most prominent member of the Pritzker Family is Penny Pritzker, the former national finance for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, who now serves on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB).
Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Hyatt reported that as of June 30, 2010 it had over $1.6 billion in cash and short term investments available. Despite 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.
“This Labor Day Hyatt workers are standing up to a company that has taken unfair advantage of this recession for too long,” says Bill Biggerstaff, the President of UNITE HERE Local 450. “Hyatt wants to lock workers into a permanent recession with cheap contracts and more cuts, and workers are fed up.”
In 2010, citywide hotel contracts covering 45,000 unionized hotel workers—including thousands of Hyatt workers—in cities across the U.S. and Canada will expire and be subject to bargaining. This week there will be Hyatt protests will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Honolulu, Toronto, Vancouver, Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.
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