Labor vs. Hyatt: The Saga Continues

On Friday, employees of the 488-room Hyatt Regency Baltimore, in a scenario similar to one that played out this past July, took to the streets to protest what they see as unfair labor practices by the hotel. This time, though, the workers are armed with a Nov. 1, 2012, complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board against the hotel, which has resulted in a trial set for Jan. 14, 2013.

Hyatt's labor woes have been playing out for some years now, complete with employee walkouts, employer shutouts, angry protests, and heated negotiations. It all has placed Chicago-based parent company Hyatt Hotels Corp., which has a portfolio of close to 500 properties worldwide, squarely in the front lines and front pages of labor and union issues. The Nov. 1 complaint filed by the NLRB was the result of a nine-page document filed by Unite Here, the national hotel and restaurant employees union, charging that the hotel's management engaged in harassment, intimidation, surveillance, threats and ultimately the firing of four employees that had engaged in union activities. It is not the first time Hyatt has been slapped on the wrist by the NLRB. In February, board regional director Cornele Overstreet faulted the chain for having an "overly broad and discriminatory acknowledgment form in its employee handbooks" in violation of employees' federal right to organize.

Calls by The Hotel Insider to Hyatt's corporate public relations team, the Hyatt Regency Baltimore's general manager, Gail Smith-Howard, and the on-site sales department, to ask whether the ongoing labor tensions were having an impact on group business, were unsuccessful; both parties were unavailable for comment. In Chicago, however, where Hyatt has been under fire since August 2009, when contracts between the union and the chain expired, there is evidence that the discord is taking its toll, particularly since this past August, when Unite Here stepped up its onslaught by launching a global boycott of Hyatt Hotels and creating a campaign called "Hyatt Hurts."

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, organizers of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, who kick off a joint conference today at McCormick Place expected to attract thousand of attendees, acknowledge the boycott has caused concern amongst the rank and file of their members. Jack Fitzmier, executive director of the AAR, which contracted room blocks at both the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and the Hyatt Regency Chicago three years ago, said canceling would have cost the conference $800,000 in attrition fees, which he said was "financially prohibitive." Instead, Fitzmier told the Chicago Tribune, "We're trying to steer a middle course and allow people to vote with their feet. We announced the boycott was taking place but kept our contract. We've moved AAR events out of the Hyatt and offered to move people to another hotel."

And the beat goes on.