Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hyatt Hotels Boycott

This has been a busy week for Justice at Hyatt.

On Tuesday, I spoke at the Hyatt hotels workers' press conference. The press conference took place in downtown Chicago outside Hyatt headquarters. Union leaders, hotel workers and Christian clergy spoke too. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Brant Rosen laid out the background to this action and provided data on the situation. Rabbi Allison Abrams read from the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) resolution condemning Hyatt management and supporting the workers.

This is what I said:

"I am Cantor Michael Davis, founder of the Reform Cantors of Chicago, a Jewish clergy group dedicated to Jewish values, tradition and community.
Reform Cantors of Chicago has endorsed the Justice at Hyatt Campaign.
This is the first time that a group of cantors in Chicago have collectively taken a position on a social justice concern. Reform Cantors of Chicago have signed the Justice at Hyatt pledge because along with speaking the prophetic call to social justice in the prayerbook and Scripture, we feel called to speak out outside the synagogue, working to realize this vision of fairness in the world.

Our tradition speaks repeatedly of our duties as Jews to those who are not members of the community but are in need of our solidarity (Leviticus 19:34). The hard-working laborers who make our city’s hotels run are entitled to provide for their families. Hyatt management’s demand to take away health insurance benefits is unfair and wrong.

I’m here today to support the boycott and to convey the support of Reform Cantors of Chicago for the workers of the Hyatt hotels."

On Wednesday five RCC cantors visited the Hyatt Regency downtown and the Hyatt O'hare. We were guided through the hotel by an effective, upbeat organizer, Noah Bernstein. The visit was an eye-opener. We met with several groups of workers, in the cafeteria, kitchens and hallways. One group of workers are 30 year veterans of the hotel, which I believe means their tenure is as old as the hotel. Their key complaint was management's demand to institute 4 and 6 hour shifts. They can't afford to work less than full time and are afraid part-time shifts will allow management not to pay them health benefits. All the workers we spoke to were concerned about losing their health benefits. This is another key management demand.

I was shocked to learn of two acts of bad faith by management in the last couple of weeks:
First, management repeatedly calls for the workers to stop protesting and return to the negotiating tables. Well, one of the worker leaders who participated in the "negotiations" reported that these sessions were a sham. The 24 member management team shows up with no printed materials and no writing utensils. They sit in the room for a few hours and then walk out. The workers' sense is that these are not negotiations but a set of diktats.
Second, on Monday, the day before our press conference, management brought in 150 workers from a temp agency, dressed them in Hyatt employee outfits and walked them through the work areas of the hotel. The workers saw this as an act of intimidation. They were frightened, but more importantly, infuriated.
I asked one worker leader why she is ready to strike and lead her co-workers in walking out of their job. Her reply: I have a child at home. I want to be able to come back home at the end of the day and stand tall and tell my child to be proud.
This campaign is as much about human dignity as the dollars and cents of health coverage and job security.
Final anecdote: during our lunch hour meetings with the worker leaders, the Hyatt Regency General Manage and the Hyatt District Manager were seated a couple of tables from us eating their lunch in the workers' cafeteria (another outrageous move: one of management's new demands is to charge the workers for their meals). On our way out, as we walked through the dishwashing area, the general manager passed by us. He gave a cheery wave to one of the dishawashing staff calling, "How ya doin' Mario!". This was perfectly staged for is...if only the union troublemakers would get out of the way, management and staff could down to work in perfect harmony.

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For coverage of the July protest check out my friend and colleague, Cantor Kim Harris' blog A Cantor's Journey.

(On Monday Reform Cantors of Chicago will issue its statement supporting the Hyatt workers' call for a boycott of three Hyatt hotels. I'll post it here when it's out.)

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