by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 15, 2011

More bad news for Hyatt on the labor unrest front. Last Thursday, hundreds of the Chicago-based hotel company's unionized employees began a weeklong strike at properties in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco, protesting what they say are dangerous working conditions and subcontracting of jobs to nonunion members. It's a contentious battle that Hyatt has been locked in with Unite Here, the union representing hotel workers, for close to two years.

Back in July, as Chicago rode out a heat wave, demonstrations outside the 198-room Park Hyatt Chicago grew more antagonistic when an unidentified manager turned on 10 heat lamps beneath the hotel's canopy as hotel workers walked the picket line. The incident drew ire from Unite Here, which promptly filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the company contending, "The employer assaulted the employees and tried to fry them by shining heat lamps on them in the middle of what was already a hot, humid day." For its part, however, not long after the incident hit media outlets, Hyatt corporate issued an official apology, emphasizing the manager's actions were not consistent with company policy, and that the individual had since left the company. Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, going one step further, wrote in a letter, "I was offended by the events, and I personally regret that they occurred. Regardless of the business challenges we face, it is never acceptable to forget that our core value of mutual respect is an essential part of the foundation on which the Hyatt culture is built. On behalf of the entire executive team, I apologize to all Hyatt associates."

As with last week's strike, the Chicago July demonstration was part of a multicity action organized by Unite Here after almost two years of stalled negotiations. According to Unite Here, this weeklong strike will affect 3,000 unionized workers at six properties. It further claims that its ongoing call to boycott 17 Hyatt properties has resulted in $20 million in lost business for the company, although it does not offer any facts to support the claim. In June of this year, Hyatt issued a statement saying it has been negotiating in good faith and was frustrated by what it called the union's continued stonewalling and rejection of a labor contract for its Chicago hotel that "matches the pay and benefit package the union has agreed to with other Chicago area hotels," including Hilton, InterContinental and Starwood, and urged the union "to get serious." The next negotiations are scheduled for Sept. 15.