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The Mechanics
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Labor & Worker Rights Wed Jul 21 2010

Union Gears Up for Civil Disobedience on Michigan Ave.

The hotel and restaurant workers' union UNITE HERE will be taking to the streets tomorrow, planning a massive civil disobedience in conjunction with other locals from around the country to pressure the Hyatt Hotels to budge on their contract negotiations.

Workers from Local 1, the Chicago branch of the union, and community supporters will be sitting down in traffic at Michigan and Wacker near the Hyatt Hotels corporation's national headquarters at the height of rush hour to protest what they say is unfair treatment of workers in the recession. They will join workers in Vancouver, Honolulu, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Clara, Miami, Pittsburgh, Long Beach, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Toronto, Monterey, Boston and Sacramento.

Hotel workers in Chicago have been without a contract since August, 2009, and recent relations have been tense--particularly at the Hyatt. In May, workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Wacker walked off the job in protest of what they say was unfair treatment, including increased workloads and denial of access to union staff by management.

The action's size and scope is unparalleled in recent memory. The union engaged in a similar civil disobedience last year in several U.S. cities including Chicago, partially in response to Hyatt Hotels' firing of almost 100 housekeeping staff in the latter city. The workers claimthey were told to train subs to cover their shifts while on vacation; after the training was completed, the hotel allegedly fired all the housekeepers and hired the new trainees, who were from a temp agency and were paid half the original workers' wages. The incident was a PR disaster for the company, drawing articles from business publications with titles like "Lessons From Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand."

Less than a year later, the union's pressure on the company has not let up. UNITE HERE claims that despite the recession, the company has been raking it in, noting that Chicago's politically powerful and well-connected Pritzker family cashed out on $900 million worth of stock in November, and Hyatt shares rose in value by 65 percent over the next six months.

The union cites data that they say shows hotel profits are projected to go up over the next few years--while companies continue to lay off workers.

Hyatt did not respond immediately to calls for comment.

Susan Tynan, a server at the Park Hyatt Chicago who was arrested in last year's action at Michigan and Chicago Avenues and plans on being arrested tomorrow, explained her actions. "We've been in contract negotiations for almost a year now, and Hyatt keeps coming back to us with cheap long-term contracts that lock us into the recession for years to come, even though business is coming back.

"We work hard, and I'm prepared to take arrest because I'm tired of Hyatt and its billionaire owners using the recession to take unfair advantage of us."

The immediate future of union/hotel relations is up in the air. But tomorrow, as hundreds are arrested in Chicago and beyond, workers are sure to send a message that will reverberate throughout the industry.

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