by Michael C. Lowe | October 01, 2011

Some 3,000 Hyatt workers launched weeklong strikes in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu last month against what Unite Here, the union representing some 250,000 hospitality workers, calls "the worst employer in the hotel industry."

Contracts in Chicago and San Francisco expired in Au­gust 2009, in Los Angeles in November 2009 and in Hono­lulu in June 2010, but -- although Hyatt has offered the same wage and benefits package that union leaders have accepted recently from Hilton, Starwood and InterContinental -- the two sides remain at odds.

The union wants two concessions that the other hotel companies already have addressed, said Annemarie Strassel, spokesperson for Unite Here. Citing a 2010 study by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that found Hyatt workers to have the highest rate of injury, as well as an incident in 2009 when three Hyatt hotels in Boston replaced their housekeeping staffs with temporary workers, Strassel said, "Workers are seeking a deal that insures them better working conditions and better job protection."

Unite Here also is seeking a clause that would give Hyatt workers the right to boycott, picket and take other actions to support Hyatt workers elsewhere. "We have not asked this of other hotel companies, but because Hyatt has been the worst employer that we've faced, our workers are looking to be stronger in future fights," said Strassel.

According to Hyatt, Unite Here is making false accusations. "The health and well-being of our associates is one of our top priorities, and we want to set the record straight," Robb Webb, chief human resources officer for the hotel company, told M&C. "We are proud of Hyatt's outstanding safety record. We have come to expect a certain level of rhetoric and gamesmanship from Unite Here whenever we are involved with their leadership in contract negotiations. But this dishonest attempt to misrepresent the work environment in our properties is well over the line."   

Meanwhile, Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, condemned Unite Here's actions. "It's astounding that the leadership of Unite Here continues to engage in such counterproductive activity. Chicago's unemployment rate is hovering at 10.5 percent -- well above the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent," he said. "Unite Here needs to get its priorities in order. No one is winning this dispute."