It was my honor to participate yesterday in a civil disobedience action in front of the Chicago Hyatt Regency Hotel. The action was part of a 15-city North American campaign targeting the Hyatt and other hotel corporations who have been squeezing workers and cutting staff across the country.
I’ve written about the Hyatt’s increasingly draconian labor practices before. Last August, Hyatt fired its longtime housekeeping staff at its three Boston-area hotels, many of whom had worked for their hotels for over 20 years. Many were required to train their replacements, who are being paid minimum wage. Hyatt defended its action by claiming it was a “business decision” and to this day the workers have not been rehired.
Meanwhile, Hyatt and other hotel chains are using the recession as an excuse to lock in employees to new long-term contracts that will freeze salaries and require workers to contribute to their own health care benefits. Blaming these actions on the recession is dubious at best, as the Hotel Workers Rising website points out:
Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. In the six months following Hyatt’s November initial public offering, Hyatt’s shares were up over 65%. In one day, majority owners of Hyatt Hotels, the Pritzker family, cashed out over $900 million in an initial public offering of the company’s stock.
Yesterday’s Chicago action in front of the Hyatt Regency took place on the busy intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. In the presence of hundreds of cheering supporters, two hundred hotel employees, allies, and clergy locked arms and sat down in rows in the middle of the street, and chanted “Enough is enough!”
Though we were all prepared to be arrested, Unite Here Local 1 leaders decided at the last minute that the majority of us would leave the scene before arrests took place, out of respect for the recently slain Chicago police officer Michael Bailey, whose wake was taking place that day. In the end, only 25 protesters were formally taken into custody.
It was a profound experience to send this public message of solidarity to the Hyatt company – and it was moving indeed to witness the mutual respect exchanged by protesters and police, which is obviously not always the case when it comes to acts of civil disobedience.
Click above to see a clip from the Chicago demonstration. I’m the one in the third row, in the light blue shirt. To my right is Cantor Michael Davis of Lakeside Congregation, Highland Park. That’s me and Michael in the pic below.
Fellow Jewish clergy and community leaders: I enourage you to sign this statement of support for Hyatt workers.