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Hyatt Workers Protest, Claim Unfair Treatment


Hotel workers protest in front of the Hyatt Century Plaza. (Photo by Shako Liu)

Hyatt Hotel employees and workers’ union Unite Here demonstrated in front of the Century Plaza on Thursday, calling for a boycott of the hotel due to claims of extensive employee abuse and low wages, the protest organizer said. The demonstration was part of a wider boycott announced on July 23 in Washington, D.C., with a number of workers’ unions, which has occupied 20 cities in the U.S.

The protesters accused Hyatt of outsourcing good jobs, exploiting immigrant workers and disrespecting them. Bertha Castro, a Hyatt Andaz housekeeper of 28 years, said in a statement that when she asked for a leave to visit her terminally sick brother in Mexico, the employer required she provide proof and refused her request. Her brother later died.

Linda Lopez, a housekeeper in the hotel for 16 years, said they start their shifts at 7:30 a.m. and have to clean 18 beds a day, while only given 30 minutes for lunch. It’s not just about cleaning beds, she said, her work includes vacuuming the floor, washing the tubs, changing sheets and dusting furniture. She said the overburdened workload deprived them of 10-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. She also complained about the old and broken cleaning carts, and said she hurt her back because she was trying to push the carts and ended up taking a two-week medical leave with no pay.

“We have too many rooms to clean and we can’t finish,” said Lopez through a translator. “They say, ‘I don’t care, you need to finish, no matter what, don’t take a break.’”

When she told the manager about the broken carts, she said they blamed a tight budget due to the economic downturn, leaving the problem unaddressed. She can’t find another job, she said, because her injured back doesn’t allow her to do as much physical labor as before. As a single mother, Lopez said she needs to take care of herself.

She wasn’t afraid of being seen by her employer, she said, and she won’t stop protesting until they hear her demands.

Denise Edwards, a bank auditor for Hyatt for 32 years, said she was there to claim her right to keep her job, which will be outsourced to Oklahoma and India. She wasn’t happy about the possible arrangements after losing this position, she said, and isn’t physically capable of standing at desks at her age. Her current pay is $20.35 per hour and she said it would be much lower in Oklahoma, since the living cost there is cheaper. Her supervisor told her that the decision came from the Hyatt corporation and he couldn’t do anything about it.

As the hotel security guards watched the demonstration, so were many hotel patrons. Guy Benporat, arriving at the hotel for business and tourism from Israel and paying $200 per night, said if he had known about the workers’ alleged abuse, he would have stayed away from it.

In response to the UniteHere’s campaign, Adrienne De Vore, director of public relations at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Los Angeles, sent out a statement, saying it is Hyatt’s workplace safety record and workforce diversity that allows the average tenure of Hyatt housekeepers in the U.S. to be maintained at more than 12 years, and an average of more than 20 years at Century Plaza.

“Our associates work hard and have the tools, resources and training they need to do a great job,” De Vore said in the statement. “For instance, Hyatt employs occupational health nurses to assist in injury prevention and treatment and provides our housekeepers have access to equipment such as wedges, mops with various handle lengths, and other items.”

To ensure the appropriate workload, the statement said, Hyatt assigns a number of credits to housekeepers, adjusted by the size, dirtiness and usage of the room.

The statement also said that the Unite Here campaign is not about creating a better workplace at its hotel in Los Angeles, but is an attempt to boost union membership by organizing associates at other Hyatt hotels through a non-democratic and intimidating process.

“If successful, the boycott will hurt our associates,” De Vore said in the statement, “contradicting the union’s stated objective of supporting our associates by improving their workplace environment and compensation.”

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