Hyatt protests escalate with hundreds on the street and 11 arrests
Published: July 27, 2011
When I first started here, it was better,” says Elvia Claudio, reflecting on her three years cleaning rooms at downtown’s stately Grand Hyatt hotel. At 47, she’s cleaned hotels for almost a decade, and now sufferers from the same back and joint aches that plague most long-time housekeepers. “The work was manageable and we weren’t treated like this.”
Room quotas have exploded over the past couple years, she says, from about 15 rooms a day to now as many as 30. And if you’re injured on the job while trying to keep up, good luck, she says. A searing pain shot through Claudio’s wrist earlier this year — an early indicator of carpal tunnel, she later found out — while she rushed to remake a bed. “[The doctor] placed restrictions on me, what work I could do, how many rooms I should do per day. The [human resources] lady, she called and didn’t like that. The Hyatt didn’t like those restrictions, so they called the doctor to get them taken off,” Claudio said.
In an angry sea of red shirts, whistles, clappers, and placards groaning beneath the towering Grand Hyatt last Thursday were many similar stories. Hundreds of current and former hotel workers, union organizers, and local supporters gathered in the hotel’s shadow to decry working conditions at the hotel.
As part of its years-long effort targeting the Hyatt, service-industry union Unite Here drummed up roughly 300 supporters to swarm the downtown hotel, making it the largest local Hyatt protest in recent memory. Grand Hyatt patrons and staff peered through hotel windows and emptied out onto balconies overlooking the marchers as current and former housekeepers spoke of what they called unreasonable room quotas, dangerous work conditions, and company indifference to workplace injury. In the shadow of the Hyatt, Linda Chavez-Thompson, vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a well-known union supporter, took the bullhorn and shouted, “You’re an employer who thinks nothing of violating the law. You treat your employees in a way that is morally wrong.”
At one point, 11 protestors calmly walked out onto the Market Street crosswalk below the hotel as the finale of Thursday’s rally. They linked arms, blocking the busy thoroughfare. It was the first time local Unite Here organizers chose civil disobedience to amplify their message. Within minutes, police took all 11 to the hotel’s parking garage, where the protestors were arrested out of sight of the gathered crowd and taken to spend the night in jail.
The arrestees included Rene Escobar, a former Hyatt housekeeper injured on the job. She fought the hotel, eventually winning a compensation claim, and Hyatt paid for her shoulder surgery. Still, Escobar now has permanent damage and is no longer fit to work.
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