Shameful Labor Agitation at Hyatt Regency Washington, DC

I've been debating whether to post this for the last month, but finally decided the time is right. The dust has settled and I have had plenty of time to make sure I am just not reacting emotionally. Here goes:

In late April I had an early morning appointment in Washington, DC and was absolutely disgusted by what I encountered on my way from Union Station to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was just after 8am when I walked by the Hyatt Regency Capital Hill on New Jersey Avenue.

I had heard yelling a few blocks back but it was only as I drew closer to the hotel that I ascertained what was going on. A big inflatable rat with leering teeth holding a bag of money was perched on the sidewalk as a group of about two dozen red-shirted men and women were marching from one side of the hotel to the other, many with loudspeakers, yelling at the top of their lungs toward the hotel rooms "2-4-6-8, we want justice, we want pay" and an assortment of other cries for "fairness" and raises.


My first thought was I am going to go home and rip these workers a new one on my blog. How shameful that hotel workers would wake up the people they are hired to serve because they think they are not making enough money in a time when the unemployment rate in the District is 10%. But then I talked to one of the agitators.

Turns out he didn't work for hotel. Nor did any of the other protesters. They all happened to be black as well. I was given a website to check out and this is what I found:

Our members are guest room attendants, cooks, bell staff, food and beverage servers, kitchen workers and laundry workers, and they take great pride in delivering the quality service and amenities that travelers expect on the road. Our hotel membership is characterized by large percentages of African American and immigrant workers, representing the diversity of North America's workforce.

Okay, so far, so good.

Hotel workers have demonstrated, picketed, and organized on the job to build a strong union that fights for good wages, affordable health benefits and retirement security, as well as strong contract language protecting them from injuries at work, promoting the hiring of African Americans and protecting the rights of immigrant workers.

Okay, so an African-American/immigrant political action committee. Fine.

I do not know how tight the hotel labor market is in DC, but had these been my employees I would have done everything in my power to terminate every one of their jobs. It is one thing to ask for an increase in pay and benefits (and even to strike for them), but it is quite another matter to rudely disrupt the hotel guests. I understand their goal--tick off hotel guests enough and they won't stay at Hyatt anymore, believing that there is labor disharmony and their night's rest is likely to be cut short. This will cause Hyatt to cave in.

But the sword is two-edged. By angering the people who indirectly their pay their wages, they jeopardize their own jobs. If no one stays at the Hyatt Regency Washington, DC anymore, there won't be any wages to bicker about because there won't be any jobs left.

But by not using the hotel's own workers, I have to give UNITE HERE some credit. It's a clever ruse. I nevertheless condemn the organization for thuggish tactics that almost called for a Park Hyatt Chicago response...


David June 15, 2012 at 01:42 am

Unite Here has been around for a while, they are a very activist union, and have had disputes with Hyatt for years and years Mathew. They have demonstrations and target Hyatts (and some other chains off and on) all over the world. They even once hijacked an Occupy Honolulu protest and chanted Unite Here mantra in the lobby of the HR Waikiki (I saw a ridiculous youtube video of that event too.)

Ex-Union June 18, 2012 at 09:54 am

sadly enough, unions pay for people to stand in the crowd chanting to make it seem bigger than it normally is.

The real issue with unions these days is that their pension funds dont have individual statements given to its members. Members only see a lump sum that the union has, which makes it hard to gauge financial security in personal pensions. It is this that makes union heads greedy and start "borrowing" funds from, which nobody knows about since its just one big ball of money.

Another issue is that members pay dues...You are not vested until you work 1, 2 or 3 years as a union member. That means for those that work less than the vesting period, their funds are neither here nor there...aka in the hands of the union heads. Look and ask the heads of unions / financial statements and you will notice this is where their "benefits" package comes from.

miami June 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Actually, I would prefer not to stay at a hotel that treates its employees poorly. Workers should be well within their rights to protest their treatment at work and to inform the customers of the business about their labor practices. What you seem to be advocating here would not be considered a free society. Just because you make a contract to work you do not sell off your rights in the public sphere. This is not China yet.

@miami: Sometimes what a worker thinks is poorly and what is actually poorly are not congruous.

GG June 20, 2012 at 03:21 pm

@Matthew Wow, clicked through from TPG's website and you instantly come off as incredibly arrogant. While of course a Union can be as corrupt or as arthritic as any corporation or government without good management, you're obviously ignorant or indifferent to the utter powerlessness of those who are stuck on our economy's bottom rung, to say nothing of minorities in that position. Imperfect though they may be, unions and labor organizing are the only option to avoid workplace abuse. If minimum wage, minority workers trying to maintain some foothold on job, wage or working condition security puts you off so much, I find it hard to believe that you've ever actually traveled outside of a gated community. There is a real world out there, Matthew, where people have absolutely nothing and work several jobs to try to make ends meet. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Seabass June 20, 2012 at 03:44 pm

@miami Read this and you will see: $28/hour for Houskeepers + paid vacation/sick days/health insurance. Yes you want employees to be treated fairly, but when does that side seem to be lopsided? The general mass (workers) will always make more "noise" than the owners. Just because someone owns a hotel doesnt mean they're making bank. Hotels do not need to be unionized. Unionization does not work in a developed nation; refer to greece, france and spain. It does work in developing nations such as China and Brazil to get their safety and living standards up. If you're complaining making $20+/hour to put on sheets and smile, you need help.

@GG: Workplace abuse? Give me a break. I've been to over 85 countries and seen real poverty, not ungrateful Americans who demand more than their skills warrant. I agree with many of your comments, but the fact remains, in a time of high unemployment in an unskilled field, these unions hurt the very people they intend to help. Do you know what the black youth unemployment rate is in the District? Or the overall youth employment for that matter? Minimum wage is not cool...

@Seabass: Thank you for your comment.

GG June 21, 2012 at 04:02 am

Matthew, thanks for your resposen. What I know about the District is that 90% of it, outside the marbled columns that tourists visit, is the poorest zipcode in the U.S. Your argument that because there is high unemployment, those who are employed should simply bear any whim of ownership/management is absurd. I totally agree that minimum wage is not cool--you would do well to look at what such protesting workers make before you assume they're trying to secure a golden parachute for their summer home in the south of France. How brave of them to stand up, as "unskilled" and Black as they are--they have everything to lose. Why is poverty in the U.S. not "real" poverty in your view? The U.S. High school graduation rate is ~ 75%(!) 1 in 7 americans is on food stamps becuase they can't afford to house themselves and eat at the same time.(!) Real wages have been falling for decades, and while I can agree there are nations worse off, we are the richest nation in the history of the world and we can't feed nor educate our children and countrymen. There is real poverty in every city in the U.S. @seabass Your outlier article about how much employees make in NYC as your evidence that such employees are overpaid is silly to anyone with a 5-year-old's understanding of arithmetic. NYC area has the highest cost of living in the nation, up there with select metro areas in the world.60k in NYC is halved or less in actual spending power relative to anywhere else in the U.S.

Seabass June 22, 2012 at 04:51 pm

@GG Your spending power is halved only if you want to live in the most expensive neighborhood of the boroughs. Manhattan. $115 is your monthly transportation costs. Legit food, not talking fast food is easy to be had and is cheaper than cooking. With 3 weeks of vacation and health/dental/vision paid for, making 60k ($25+/hour) is absurd for a housekeeper. Office workers such as paralegals, bookkeepers, office managers in the city dont make 60K. You want to unionize anything, i'de start with fast food chains paying minimum wage. Just because people chant, doesnt mean you should immediately jump. Next time you see a crowd out there, just remember that unions need to "represent" they have goons that stand to make the crowd larger than it is. For every 1 real employee, there will be 3 other goons that are paid as fill ins. Unions in America are a leach. They will suck you dry as they did to Detroit auto industry, Greece and Spain. What gives them the right to interfere with someones business that they put their blood sweat and tears into? The owners are paying them a "fair" wage (minimum wage or higher). If they dont like it, they can leave and look for another job. They arent bound to work there and neither should an owner be bound to have collective bargaining. Unionization is the equivalent to rent stabilization in my eyes. Making hard working hotel/building owners who have beat the odds to become successful and own their own property to pay for the benefit of the less fortunate....I guess you can call it socialist.

Arjun S Sawant May 1, 2013 at 01:33 pm

Every hotel worker should take part in this movement and protest against this kind of autocratic attitude of employers

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