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Hyatt workers launch week-long strike

Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel workers joweek-long strike conjunctiwith Hyatt workers nationwide. Thursday September 8 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel workers join week-long strike in conjunction with Hyatt workers nationwide. Thursday, September 8, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 9, 2011 12:58PM

A week-long strike was launched at Hyatt hotels in Chicago and in three other cities Thursday morning, part of an escalation of labor unrest at the Chicago-based hotel chain.

Unionized workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and at Hyatt hotels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu launched the protest citing working conditions and outsourcing.

“Hyatt is one of the most abusive hotels in their treatment of housekeepers and has the worst record on subcontracting,” said Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1, which represents the workers.

The union says the hotel chain has replaced career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers and that housekeepers at some Hyatt hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double what is typically required at union hotels. It contends injury rates for Hyatt housekeepers are high and says to date federal and state safety regulators have issued 15 citations against Hyatt at 10 hotels and three citations against two of the Hyatt’s housekeeping subcontractors.

“Hyatt is in a position to give us the things we deserve,” said housekeeper Tameka Snell, who walked the picket line at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Thursday morning. “We have workers who want to do their job. They are being laid off and replaced with temporary workers.”

The union represents about 1,000 housekeepers, bell staff, restaurant and banquet workers at the Hyatt Regency and Hyatt McCormick, whose contract expired Aug. 31, 2009.

Spokespersons at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and Hyatt McCormick said the hotels continue to operate normally with help from managers and staff from other Hyatt hotels. Hyatt Regency Chicago General Manager Patrick Donelly said more than 40 percent of workers scheduled to come to work did so.

Regarding the safety issues raised by the union, Hyatt spokesman Farley Kern said, “Unite Here regularly engages in extreme rhetoric and gamesmanship during contract negotiations. This dishonest attempt to misrepresent the work environment in our properties is well over the line.”

Negotiations are scheduled with the union on Sept. 15.

The major stumbling block in the talks are the union’s desire to have card check neutrality agreements at Hyatt hotels in San Francisco, Long Beach and San Jose, Calif. and Indianapolis, which the hotel chain opposes, Donelly said. Under such agreements, the hotels would remain neutral in organizing campaigns and the union would not have to hold National Labor Relations Board secret ballot elections to organize the workers. The hotels would become unionized if a majority of workers signed cards agreeing to be represented by the union. Tamarin said the union is seeking no such language in the contract, but does want “language that would give us the right to respect picket lines and to boycott other (Hyatt) properties” where workers aren’t unionized.

“This work stoppage could have been avoided if the local union had accepted the identical wage and benefits package they already accepted from Hilton, Starwood and InterContinental,” Donelly said. “We look forward to a quick resolution to this action so our associates can return to work as some of the best paid hotel associates in the city.”

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