Housekeepers from the Grand Hyatt Seattle and Hyatt at Olive 8 rallied in front of the Grand Hyatt Seattle on Thursday, September 25, asking for better working conditions and the right to vote on unionization.
The rally, lead by the local chapter of a national labor union for hospitality workers, Unite Here Local 8, was the next step in a year-long boycott of the two hotels. The rally reiterated the reason for the boycott, calling for change in the housekeepers’ working conditions, including having to clean toilets and floors on their knees, and urging local owner Richard Hedreen to support a fair vote.
“The greatest purpose is … to make sure management knows we support [the workers],” said Eunice How, boycott organizer for Unite Here Local 8.
Management of the Grand Hyatt Seattle and Hyatt at Olive 8 dispute the union’s claims.
“The union is disturbing the very people they intend to help. They are taking the livelihood out of their hands,” said Grand Seattle Hyatt and Hyatt at Olive 8 general manager Steve Vissotzky.
About 150 people attended the rally, including members of local labor unions, LGBTQ groups, and American Pacific Islander groups. At the end of the rally, some members of the Hyatt housekeeping staff attending the rally spoke to the crowd.
“It feels good to work in a hotel when the community supports us,” said Yuan Ping Tang, houseman at the Hyatt at Olive 8.
Originally from China, Tang came to America to provide for his son and has worked at the Olive 8 for six years. He currently pays more than $360 for health insurance for his family, a cost that would drop if he joined a union.
“All we are asking is to take care of our families. The workers in other Hyatt across the country have won the fair process,” he said. “We deserve the same.”
Maria Aguilar, a housekeeper at a Hyatt in Emeryville, Calif., where Hyatt housekeepers recently unionized, came to support the Seattle Hyatt workers.
“Don’t be afraid of the manager. Don’t go backward. You have to go forward to win,” she said to the crowd through a translator.
The Seattle boycott follows 2013 union-contract ratifications through fair process agreed on by Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Unite Here locals in Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Since then, Hyatt workers in four other U.S. cities have signed union contracts through a fair-elections process, according to Unite Here Local 8.
Tracy Lai, a member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and co-president of community college union AFT Seattle, came in solidarity with the workers.
“As a faculty member, our contract wouldn’t be nearly as good if we hadn’t unionized,” Lai said. “If they don’t have a contract with the support of the management, its difficult to get good working conditions.”
“We believe Seattle is at a crossroads,” said Joaquin Uy, member of Filipino social activism group BAYAN Pacific Northwest. “We have a decision to make to let these developers go unchecked or create a Seattle that … [helps] the most vulnerable.”
A number of Asian Pacific Islander groups have pledged to not eat, sleep or conduct business at the two Hyatt hotels, according to the Local 8 website. This includes the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, Japanese American Citizens League-Seattle, Vietnamese Friendship Association, BAYAN Pacific Northwest and others.
API Chaya, a local organization that supports victims of domestic violence in the API community, moved an annual dinner fundraiser last April from the Grand Hyatt Seattle in support of the boycott.
According to How, management gave a delegation of housekeepers at the two Seattle hotels verbal support for a fair vote on unionization in 2012, but a staff change stopped the election process. How noted that Hedreen, as the local business owner, has the right to not support a vote.
“I don’t think the owner is really wanting his workers to have respect on the job,” How said.
She said Local 8 representatives heard from Tang, Hyatt at Olive 8 housekeeper Min Yi Li, and other workers that employees wanted to unionize but were prevented by the management. Local 8 currently has no count for the number of workers who wish to unionize.
“The majority of the people inside are very scared to speak,” How said.
She said the workers do not want to go to the National Labor Review Board to force a union vote and would rather use an internal process within the Hyatt Hotels Corp., which Vissotzky says is instead “completely dependent on the individual property.”
Vissotzky disputes Local 8’s claims, saying the accusations do not come from the workers themselves.
He said housekeepers have access to long-handled cleaning tools and prefer the smaller carts. Housemen, he said, bring additional cleaning supplies to housekeepers during the day and that housekeepers like this restocking method.
The Grand Hyatt Seattle and Hyatt at Olive 8 are owned in partnership by the Hyatt Hotels Corp. and R.C. Hedreen Company.
The Hedreen company develops, owns and manages hotels in the downtown Seattle area. Richard Hedreen is CEO of the company.
Hedreen company vice president Greg Harris told KPLU that the properties are managed by the Hyatt Hotels Corp., and that the Hedreen company does not technically employ the housekeepers. How acknowledged that the housekeepers are not supervised by the Hedreen company.
Vissotzky said the Grand Hyatt Seattle management would support an election by the employees.
“We support the law that allows for a democratic secret-ballot election,” Vissotzky said. “The choice to be represented by the union is completely in the employees hands.”