Hotel gives 100 reasons to protest

By SpencerRoush

Taking a vacation and staying at a hotel can be luxurious. However, one might not think about the person who comes into their room every afternoon to scrub and vacuum the floors, change the sheets and make everything pristine for their return. But more and more housekeepers are drawing national attention because of their frustation toward drastic staff cuts and other “mistreatments.”

Chicago joined 11 other cities on Nov. 16, in protesting the firing of 100 Hyatt Hotel Corp.  workers in three Boston locations at the end of August. The “Boston 100” were fired from the company and asked to train their replacements who were from an outsourcing agency. The demonstrators marched in front of the Park Hyatt, 800 N. Michigan Ave., with a 150-foot Hope Quilt, made by housekeepers across the United States, that displayed their stories.

“Our goal was to send a message to Hyatt, along with workers from across North America, to rehire the Hyatt 100 housekeepers,” said Annemarie Strassel, communications coordinator for Unite Here, a union for hospitality workers and other industries, through an e-mail. “Our secondary goal was to bring visibility more broadly to the mistreatment and abuse that housekeepers face in their jobs, which are physically demanding and can lead to constant pain and permanent disability.”

Since the massive firing on Aug. 31, housekeepers and Unite Here Local 1 members have been trying to regain the 100 positions that were lost through a series of ongoing protests.

“We all do 16 rooms, we’ve all been long-term employees at these properties and we all suffer the same aches and pains,” said Francine Johnson, a Chicago Hyatt housekeeper of 18 years. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Boston with the Hyatt or somewhere else, [hotels] are still doing the same thing; it’s always the same company.”

The Hyatt released a statement in September that stated the firings were caused by the economy and a loss of revenue. Butmany people won’t accept the explanation.

“I think the economy is an excuse,” said Frank Emspak, a 40-year labor activist. “What you are seeing here is 30 years of a freeze, and in many cases a fall in the income, of working people. So the closing of a facility and then hiring contractors or part-timers, has been going on now for almost 30 years. This is just more public and the people are fighting back.”

According to another statement released shortly after the first, the Hyatt is ensuring the 100 housekeepers that were affected by staff reductions will be rehired by an affiliate of United Service Corporations through the end of 2010 and will have extended health coverage until March 2010.

Johnson said she thinks the Hyatt should rehire all of them, and said she wouldn’t be surprised if they tried firing people in Chicago and other hotels, like they did in Boston. She said the worst part of their situation was asking them to train their replacements before leaving.

“That’s a slap in the face,” Johnson said. “You didn’t give all these years for this company, you didn’t work to provide for your family and yourself, to turn around and have them bring another source of people in there and get you to train them.”

Emspak, who’s also director of Workers’ Independent News, said workers training their replacements has become common practice. He said the “Boston 100’s” story is just more well-known to the public.

“One of the reasons that the protests and efforts might work here is because the Hyatt is a company that depends on the public,” Emspak said. “If the public is disenchanted with the Hyatt or feels that the company is deliberately reducing service, you’re going to lose market shares, one hopes, because people will not use them as a hotel. They’re more vulnerable.”