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Hyatt protests escalate with hundreds on the street and 11 arrests

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

Minutes before arrest: Market Street standoff.

Photo: , License: N/A

Elvia Claudio and daughter Perla Terrazas.

Organizers here say they hope Thursday’s action will be the first to spark a union revival across downtown’s mostly service economy, leading to large-scale unionizing of River Walk hotel staff. “When we look at San Antonio, we’re not just looking at the Hyatt. We’re hoping to help organize all the hotels downtown. … We know too well the conditions at the Hyatt aren’t unique,” Kutalik said.

Unite Here has scored some small victories in its three years organizing local Hyatt workers. After a settlement last year between the hotel, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, and Unite Here the Grand Hyatt began posting flyers at workstations throughout the hotel acknowledging employees’ right to organize, and the hotel hired back one employee who claimed he was fired in retaliation for union organizing.

Unite Here has also set its sights on building a more labor-friendly council in San Antonio, mimicking similar strategies in cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix by launching a massive campaigning effort behind now District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal’s recent run for office. Bernal himself made a short appearance at Thursday’s rally.

According to Unite Here’s figures, the San Antonio hospitality industry is the area’s third-largest employer, closely behind medical services and defense-related jobs. The industry, they say, employs one out of eight workers in the area, though at a local average wage between $8.39 and $8.69 per hour, well below the average national wage for similar jobs, which trends between $9.72 to $9.90 per hour.

The group also points to an American Journal of Industrial Medicine study published last year examining five large hotel companies that showed Hyatt workers with the highest rate of injuries — something union organizers insist is due to increasingly unsafe working conditions. Women on staff are also 50 percent more likely to be injured than men, and Hispanic women had double the rate of injury of their white counterparts, according to the study.

Hyatt managers have called Unite Here’s actions against the hotel chain an aggressive smear campaign and question the AJIM study. In response to Thursday’s arrests, Tom Netting, the Grand Hyatt’s managing director, released a written statement saying, “Instead of bargaining in good faith, Unite Here union leaders have decided to remain the only obstacle standing in the way of what would provide associates with higher hourly wages, healthcare coverage and enhanced retirement contributions.

“While the union membership demonstrates, we remain prepared to complete negotiations or elections to allow our associates to decide what kind of work-life they choose to have,” he said.

Unite Here’s Holmes doesn’t buy it.

“When I speak to doctors who work on these workers’ comp cases, they’ll say that you’ll never see anything worse than a strain or a contusion coming out of these places. … We looked at paperwork from this one woman who had a torn ligament in her knee, and they were saying she just had a contusion,” Holmes said. “It’s very hard for the workers to get a good doctor’s opinion, especially when H.R.’s pressuring them.”

Said Claudio: “Really, I don’t think the doctor’s opinion matters as much as H.R.’s opinion.”

Surrounded last week by a wave of signs and chanting protestors, Kutalik said last week’s arrests are just a sign of what’s to come. “This is just the beginning of this full-court press. This is escalation, that is what’s happening here. We’re gaining momentum, really building this local movement.” •

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