Shouting “I used to be a human being, now I’m only a machine” to a crowd of hotel patrons on Embarcadero Friday morning, protesters from the service industry group UNITE HERE joined their voices in unshakable unison to boycott the Hyatt hotel chain in the City by the Bay. At the forefront of the controversy: immigration rights and a heated debate over a non-existent faulty contract.
Hyatt workers voiced concerns in April 2012 when two Hyatt hotels posted notices of Hyatt’s enrollment in the E-Verify program. Under the law, the hotels are required to negotiate changes to terms of employment – including implementation of E-Verify – with the workers’ union.
In the complaint, the Acting General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board seeks an order requiring the two Hyatt Hotels “to provide written notice to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to terminate their enrollment in the E-Verify program.” A hearing date has been set for October 31, 2012.
E-Verify is a program run by the DHS by which employers electronically check the Social Security numbers of newly-hired employees. Participation in E-Verify is optional.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights activist Cleve Jones told The Seattle Lesbian exclusively, “Hyatt makes all sorts of claims to the LGBT community, but their non-discrimination policies and domestic partner benefits don’t mean squat when they subcontract those jobs to companies that don’t honor those commitments or provide those benefits.”
Francisco Ugarte, an immigration attorney with the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network, says of the program, “E-Verify is riddled with errors, and there’s no oversight to make sure that the program isn’t used for nefarious reasons. It’s obvious that employers use immigration enforcement as a tool to keep workers down.”
The peaceful protest consisted of approximately 20 individuals and commenced directly at the front entrance of the hotel located at 5 Embarcadero Center.
In speaking with UNITE HERE Research Analyst Julia Wong, Chapter 2 has waited for three years for a contract to be signed granting workers due pay. UNITE HERE strategically planned the protest for the commencement of the highly-publicized and respected Online News Association (ONA) 2012 conference. Wong spoke exclusively to The Seattle Lesbian about the chapter’s concerns.
In a perceived attempt to avoid disruption, confusion and cancellation, ONA 2012 supplied the following document to its conference attendees pre-event.
Unite Here and the Hyatt Corporation have been in negotiations for two years over a range of issues. While tentative agreements have been made regarding wages and benefits (the same as those in other hotels in San Francisco in which Unite Here has members; benefits are 100% employer paid), policies regarding union-membership voting rules and broader Hyatt chain worker safety history remain unresolved. (More details: The Hyatt Corporation website and the Unite Here website and hotelworkersrising.org.)
The workers at the Hyatt Regency are not on strike. But because of unresolved labor issues, Unite Here has waged a campaign to urge travelers and meeting planners to boycott Hyatt Hotels. ONA is not alone in being contacted. Other major membership associations have been and are being contacted by Unite Here. Other hotels being targeted for boycotts are in San Francisco, Chicago and Honolulu.
Did ONA know about the dispute?
We were not made aware of the dispute by Unite Here or the hotel until 2012, a year after we signed our contract with the Hyatt Regency.
Will ONA participate in a boycott?
After looking into the matter closely, ONA has determined that participating in a boycott and pulling out of our year-long contract is not an appropriate or viable course of action. Pulling out of a binding contract would have resulted in a six-figure cost — a non-starter for a nonprofit organization such as ours, which relies on the registration and sponsorships that come from our annual conference to provide member benefits and serve our journalism community. While ONA is supportive of the ongoing negotiations process and has communicated with and urged both parties to resolve their issues in a timely manner that is fair to all, it is committed to holding its meeting as planned.
What is the Hyatt Regency’s role in the negotiations?
The Hyatt, in response to UniteHere complaints related to its collective bargaining and organizing agenda, have had the injury records and substantive working conditions of 11 hotels thoroughly reviewed by Federal OSHA, California OSHA and two other State Plans. As a result of Unite Here complaints and substantial review by OSHA, CalOSHA and other State plans, no ergonomic issues or other serious working conditions affecting housekeepers or Hyatt’s other associates have been cited and no corrective actions have been required. These investigations have involved looking at thousands of records and at least three ergonomics experts and more than a dozen compliance officers following and videotaping countless housekeepers and other Hyatt associates doing their jobs. After all of this review by Federal and State agencies, Hyatt has not received any material serious citations as relates to the specific complaints made by Unite Here to Federal and State OSHA, including any ergonomic issues.
Are the hotels workers at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco on strike?
No. The workers at this Hyatt hotel are not on strike, nor are health and safety issues on the negotiating table in the dispute between Unite Here and Hyatt.
As far as we can know, the Hyatt Regency workers are not expected to strike, so ONA12 attendees will not be crossing a picket line, although there may be demonstrations. (Demonstrations did ramp up in July, when a group of unions supported a global boycott of the Hyatt hotel chain.) If that changes, we will alert attendees and offer conference refunds by Sept. 12 to anyone who feels uncomfortable with the situation.
UNITE HERE represents more than 250,000 union workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, and airport industries.