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Latest News - October 2012

October 4, 2012
Hyatt Hurts: hotel workers organise global boycott for a fair deal
Source: The Gaurdian
By: Naomi Wolf

In a striking case of international solidarity, housekeeping staff worldwide are protesting their exploitation by the hotel giant

Hotel cleaner Nafissatou Diallo alleged she was sexually assaulted by France's former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn last year. Photograph: Louis Lanzano/AP

As I walked out of a noticeably dirty Hyatt hotel while on a book tour in San Francisco last week, I was startled by a major labor event with a well-executed picket line and loud, disciplined chanting. It became clear that the housekeeping staff and their union were asking customers to boycott Hyatt over a dispute of which I had been unaware.

I received a tip to the story from Julia Wong of Unite Here, a coalition of union members in the hospitality industry, which asserts that Hyatt commonly exploits its workers. At first, housekeepers were calling for boycotts of individual Hyatt properties. But when Hyatt refused to address some of the concerns raised – such as health and safety, when the hotel chain led the opposition to a California bill that would have required hotels to use fitted sheets in order to ease the physical burden on cleaners – the effort ramped up to a global boycott.

In July 2012, Unite Here and other groups, including the National Football Players' Association – whose representatives said that many players had been raised by hardworking women like the housekeepers who had joined the campaign – launched the escalated boycott, Hyatt Hurts. The coalition already includes some serious players in the feminist and leftwing activist worlds like the National Organization of Women (NOW), Moveon.org and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Hyatt has been awarded the dubious title of "the Worst Hospitality Employer in America" by the Hyatt Hurts website. Rather movingly, as the movement spread, workers in Hyatts in India, the UK, Israel and the Phillipines went on strike. This is a historic effort, because as globalization extends employers' power globally, it also strengthens the global counter-protest, or global boycott, by uniting workers across the world to organize successfully from the ground upwards.

In interviews with the housekeepers, the issue of these women often being treated as if they are "invisible" came up again and again, as did the quantity of extremely hard work, sometimes injurious, that is expected of the mostly female, and mostly non-white, workers. As they pointed out, hotel guests rarely think about this, simply expecting vacuumed floors and dusted surfaces. But cleaning women and men typically perform heavy labor very quickly for a big chain such as Hyatt. In May, the federal authority, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), actually sent a letter to Hyatt management, warning executives about the health risks of driving their cleaning people so ruthlessly (a letter that is considered a first in the industry).

The Hyatt staff whom I interviewed describe the rapid pace of cleaning room after room, including the hard physical work like scrubbing bathrooms on one's hands and knees and lifting heavy mattresses. These and other strenuous moves increase the likelihood of back and knee injuries given the expected high room turnover.

Jacob Tomsky, a desk clerk for a luxury hotel who has written a tell-all account of working in the hospitality industry, Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality, has great sympathy for housekeepers' work conditions:

 

 


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