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Latest News - September 2011

September 8, 2011
Hyatt workers launch weeklong strike in Chicago, other cities
Source: Chicago Real Estate Daily
By: Alby Gallun

(Crain's) — Union workers at Hyatt hotels in Chicago and three other cities launched a weeklong strike Thursday, ratcheting up the pressure on the Chicago-based Hyatt chain amid stalled labor contract talks.

Workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and Hyatt Regency McCormick Place started picketing early Thursday morning, more than two years after their last labor contract expired. Their union, Unite Here, has staged a series of strikes at Hyatt hotels here over the past year or so, but until now none has lasted longer than a day.

Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp., which is controlled by the billionaire Pritzker family, is the last major hotel chain without a new labor pact covering downtown workers. The last contracts expired Aug. 31, 2009.

Unite Here calls Hyatt “the worst employer in the hotel industry,” saying the chain overworks and mistreats its housekeepers. Hyatt has said it has offered union workers in Chicago the same benefit and pay levels that Unite Here agreed to with other chains.

The hostilities jumped in July, when heat lamps were turned on outside the Park Hyatt Chicago as workers picketed at the Michigan Avenue hotel. Hyatt apologized for the incident, but both sides filed unfair-labor-practice charges against each other with the National Labor Relations Board.

Negotiators for Hyatt and Unite Here Local 1, which represents Chicago hotel workers, have met several times this summer but have made “no progress” toward reaching a contract, a union spokeswoman said. The two sides are scheduled to meet again in mid-September, she said.

Hyatt "has been trying to give our employees the raises they deserve for two years, but Unite Here has stalled negotiations and refused to come to agreement with us," a company spokeswoman said in an email.

"Unfortunately, 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," she said. "It is unclear why the union is refusing to help give our associates the benefit increases they have earned and deserve."

Local 1 represents about 1,000 workers at the Hyatt Regency, at 151 E. Wacker Drive, and the McCormick Place Hotel, at 2233 S. Martin Luther King Drive.

Unite Here is also holding weeklong strike at Hyatt Hotels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu, the union said in a news release.

Of the roughly 220 union employees scheduled to work Thursday at the Hyatt Regency downtown, about 80 crossed the picket line and reported to work, said Patrick Donelly, general manager of the hotel, the city's largest, with 2,109 rooms.

He said a major sticking point in the talks is a Unite Here demand that Hyatt recognize the union as a bargaining representative for employees at four hotels in California and Indianapolis. Hyatt wants a formal secret-ballot vote on the proposal, while Unite Here is seeking so-called card check neutrality, where the union simply collects signatures from employees who say they support a union, he said. Under card-check, if more than half the workers at a hotel favor the idea, Hyatt would automatically recognize the union without an official election.

The union spokesman said that Unite Here wants card-check at non-union Hyatt hotels but is not demanding it in the context of the Chicago labor talks. She also disputes Mr. Donelley's estimate of how many union employees have crossed the picket line.

"We've had a few people go back in, but nothing like the numbers he's portraying," she said. "We're still working out the numbers but I can tell you that's a wild exaggeration."



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