Earlier this year, National Catholic Reporter called Hyatt Hotels “the worst hotel employer in the industry.”
Allegations about working conditions at Hyatt sound as if the profit now takes priority even over the health of workers. Maids are required to clean up to 30 rooms in a single day, with many reporting detrimental health effects. Cathy Youngblood reports that she “could smell the injustice” on her first day of employment and now has “a diminished quality of life.” Long-term regular employees making $12 to $14 an hour have been laid off and replaced with minimum wage temporary workers, impacting families and the community.
In Chicago, local groups led by teachers are protesting a $5.2 millionTIF (Tax Increment Financing) the city is awarding to a local Hyatt, while school local budgets are being cut by $3.3 million, and 27 teachers are being laid off.
These grievances are the at the heart of calls for a nationwide boycott of the hotel chain, with thousands of individuals, groups and companies already taking the pledge to not do business with Hyatt until it cleans up its act.
Chicago protests over the use of TIF funds at the same time the city is cutting back essential services is aimed at Hyatt heiress and CEO Penny Pritzker in particular. Ms. Pritzker was a major financial backer for President Obama’s 2008 election campaign, and many with deep pockets look to her for leadership on whether to continue supporting the President during his reelection bid. Accusations include conflict of interest, since the Hyatt chain stands to gain, and Ms. Pritzker sits on the unelected school board getting the financial cuts. To its credit, the Obama administration has not attempted to counter the criticism directed at Pritzker. Some speculate that other backers are taking the Obama administration’s lack of action as a reason or excuse to withhold further backing.
Religious groups have stated that Hyatt has a moral obligation to correct its policies and treat their employees properly. A flash Mass was held at Hyatt hotels around the country to draw attention to the plight of employees. Clete Kiley, a Catholic priest of the Chicago Archdiocese stated, “Hyatt now faces a stark moral challenge. Will it continue to put profits before human dignity, or meet its responsibility to be an ethical corporation?”
Unite Here! Local 1 of Chicago has been central in organizing the boycott and is receiving support from some major hitters. The NFL players association has agreed to honor the boycott, as has the AFL-CIO, the National Organization of Women (NOW) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Beside direct protests at local Hyatts, there is also a petition effort to name the company worst employer. Those wishing to sign the petition can find it here.
Pushback and defense of Ms. Pritzker and Hyatt has focused either on denying any benefit from company policies, denying there is anything wrong and blaming others. When confronted about financial gains fro, TIFs, corporate spokesmen responded that the TIF goes to a local franchisee and the company directly.
While that may be true, it would seem that when local franchises prosper, so does the franchise organization as a whole. The company accuses Unite Here! Of using the controversy as a recruiting tool, and that there is no truth to accusations of employee mistreatment. In light of the evidence available, these defenses seem disingenuous at best.
Further information on the Hyatt boycott, what you can do and testimonials from employees can be found at Hyatt Hurts.