The Hyatt Workers Strike – Meeting Planners Beware

Hyatt was bitching because 3000 union employees went on a week-long strike in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu after working without a contract for TWO YEARS. I am not surprised by Hyatt’s move and I am certainly not surprised by their response at the time, which was, typically corporate.

Here is what Hyatt Regency Chicago General Manager Patrick Donelly had to say:

“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,” he said. “It is unclear why the union is refusing to help give our associates the benefit increases they have earned and deserved….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.”

Now, call me crazy, but I am not sure that this is an accurate representation of what the union and its members were striking about. What they were striking about in addition to pay, is working conditions and the rampant outsourcing that is taking place in the hotel industry… ergo, the meetings industry.

Here is what Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamari had to say:

Hyatt is one of the most abusive hotels in their treatment of housekeepers and has the worst record on subcontracting

I get the point and according to Tamari, it seems that the Hyatt is one of the worst companies when it comes to tossing workers aside like garbage and replacing them with minimum wage subcontractors. Where is the loyalty, where is the sense of “family”.. we should all be in this together.

This was not a recent event, if you go back to 2009, here is a snip from an article in the Boston Globe where 100 Hyatt employees were tricked into training their replacements and then all laid off.  All to save on the cost of health benefits. That to me is dirty pool, very dirty indeed.

When the housekeepers at the three Hyatt hotels in the Boston area were asked to train some new workers, they said they were told the trainees would be filling in during vacations.

On Aug. 31, staffers learned the full story: None of them would be making the beds and cleaning the showers any longer. All of them were losing their jobs. The trainees, it turns out, were employees of a Georgia company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions, who were replacing them that day.

After the Boston episode, Hyatt put out a statement that read like this:

We are providing the affected associates with assistance, including severance and outplacement counseling. Hyatt is committed to treating our employees with honesty and respect.

I hate to tell Hyatt, but shit canning someone so that you can make more money does not sound like respect to me. And honesty??? Where is the honesty in tricking someone into training their replacements?

Hyatt (and all companies) need to grab a ticket on the clue train because it is not always about profit and I do not think that they are doing the right thing by screwing the lowest-hanging fruit.

Hyatt blamed the Boston mess on declining revenue which I feel is a smoke screen. If I owned a hotel that was losing that much revenue, I would close the fucking thing…

Only an idiot believes that cutting the wages of 100 already low-paid workers is really going to make a dent in the overall budget of a multimillion-dollar property. Really, do they think that we are stupid… oh wait, we are stupid because this shit happens all the time, and meeting planners say nothing and our industry associations do no better.

Because this affects meetings and events, you would think that the industry associations that meeting planners support would at least make a statement…. but no…………(queue crickets chirping).

You would think that this would impact the whole CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility Thing. Instead, CSR stands for “Craftily Screwing the Rest”.

Crap like this is the primary reason that the United States has a disappearing middle class and yet hotels are so shortsighted that they cannot see that the middle class is their biggest customer.

This shit really pisses me off (can you tell).

If you want more, I can give you more. Here is a quote from an article that appeared in the Huffington Post just three weeks ago:

As Hotels Outsource Jobs, Workers Lose Hold On Living Wage

Hotel workers in this town (Indianapolis) say their workloads have increased in recent years while their wages have remained flat or even fallen. In some cases, the housekeepers are expected to clean roughly twice as many rooms as they were just a few years ago, often working off the clock to meet their quota and avoid being disciplined. As the cost of living has climbed, they find themselves worse off than they were a decade ago.

Having a happy, healthy workforce is one of the most important steps in creating revenue. Yes, you put out more money on the front end but you have a staff that works 100% for the good of the company and everyone is happy, the corporation, the worker, and the guest.

To meeting and event planners, I would ask you this –

Do you want a bunch of minimum-wage, unhappy workers with no health insurance taking care of your attendees?

You should really think about that question because now a sick worker is going to come into work because they can no longer afford the medical care they need. On top of this, it will never end because they can barely afford food. This creates a self-replicating cycle that could have been avoided by treating people like people and not like a commodity.

Unhappy, underpaid workers are also going to do a shitty job and they are going to treat your attendees like crap and that is going to affect YOU when the attendees start complaining about the hotel, YOU, the meeting planner have chosen.

This is not fucking funny anymore. Back in the 80s and 90s the unions were just as much to blame for their situation as everyone else, I freely admit that. It does however seem to me that the unions are getting their shit together and are back arguing for the rights of the middle and lower class workers that they represent.

Lately, I have seen unions sit at the negotiation table, offer concessions and actually work with the companies where their members are employed in order to keep everyone happy. I am sorry to say that I have not seen this willingness to work together from ANY company, especially the companies in the meetings and events industry.

There is NO reason why Hyatt cannot work with the union to get this situation under control, no reason at all. This comes down to padding the coffers on the backs of the workers and NOTHING more. There is no rationale for outsourcing and screwing the little guy other than profit.

By outsourcing and laying off good employees, Hyatt is helping to kill the middle class so that they can throw a few extra gold coins in their stockholder’s pockets.

Henry Ford used to pay his workers WAY more that the going rate of the day because he understood the fundamentals of business better than most of the overpaid, ass-hat CEOs and managers that are out there today. Here is a snip about him from Wikipedia:

Ford astonished the world in 1914 by offering a $5 per day wage ($110 today), which more than doubled the rate of most of his workers. A Cleveland, Ohio newspaper editorialized that the announcement “shot like a blinding rocket through the dark clouds of the present industrial depression.” The move proved extremely profitable; instead of constant turnover of employees, the best mechanics in Detroit flocked to Ford, bringing their human capital and expertise, raising productivity, and lowering training costs.

Henry ford may have been many things and not all good, but he understood the value of the worker.

Ford was staunchly against labor unions but when you are paying your employees DOUBLE the rate of your competition, you can be whatever you want. In my opinion, he may not have been right, but he had a leg to stand on and that earned him a seat at the table. In fact, in 1941, when the unions did come to Ford Motor Company, rather than nickel and dime them, the unions walked away with the most FAVORABLE terms in the industry (Do you hear that Hyatt… are you listening).

Lashing out against your lowest-paid employees simply because you are fucking greedy does not get you a seat at my table and should not get you a seat at any table, you should be kicked out like the bum you are.

This is my opinion and I am sticking to it.

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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