By Luke Vargas
When a visiting NFL team checks into a ritzy downtown hotel the buzz is palpable. Reporters, fans and autograph hounds transform complexes typically filled with business clients into hubs of excitement.
At a press conference in Washington Monday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith channeled that athletic influence to a lesser known labor cause than his sporting league’s sporadic lockouts by supporting a boycott of the Hyatt Hotels chain.
The plight of Hyatt Hotels workers is being championed by UNITE HERE, a union representing over 250,000 individuals in the hospitality industry. The union’s president, John W. Wilhelm, outlined the alleged mistreatment of Hyatt workers to a packed room of reporters and labor activists at the National Press Club, touching on high injury rates at Hyatt’s non-unionized locations that result from workers being required at times to clean more than twice as many rooms daily as their unionized colleagues.
“Hyatt Hotels has quite purposefully chosen to position itself as the major hotel company that is driving conditions for all of its employees, but especially its housekeepers, to the low road,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm repeatedly cited a 2009 article published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that chronicled injuries to employees at 50 hotels operated by the top five companies in the United States. According to the report, Hyatt housekeepers experienced the highest injury rates of the group – nearly twice the rate of their counterparts at the safest hotel – a fact Wilhelm attributed to Hyatt having “pioneered the rapid speed-up of housekeeping work.”
As for the high-profile athletes who call hotels home while on the road, DeMaurice Smith acknowledged that although game day hotel decisions remain the responsibility of individual teams, the NFLPA is making direct appeals to players, as well as teams, to encourage them to patronize only those hotels included on UNITE HERE’s “Union Hotel Guide.”
“None of our players were born millionaires they come from the same families that sit here before us,” Smith said, referencing a dozen Hyatt employees from around the country that introduced themselves at the press conference.
Among them were long-term employees from some of the chain’s unionized and non-unionized locations around the country. Acknowledging the risk undertaken by those employees in speaking out publicly, Wilhelm noted a Cornell University study showing that over 20% of American workers pushing for unionization are fired in the process.
Adding organizational muscle and public awareness to the boycott was Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, UNITE HERE’s presiding federation.
“Without these courageous hard workers, none of the world’s great summits, none of the world’s great conventions, none of the day-to-day business [at hotels] could take place,” Trumka said.
Beginning Monday, UNITE HERE will stage week long protests in twenty cities, specifically targeting those cities with non-unionized Hyatt hotels such as Baltimore and Indianapolis.