BOSTON/Downtown Crossing - Over 500 people - primarily members of several local unions - picketed outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel at One Lafayette Place on Thursday at a protest organized by UNITE HERE Local 26 to demand the reinstatement of 100 Boston-area Hyatt hotel employees that were summarily fired on August 31st and replaced with workers from Georgia-based outsourcing company, Hospitality Staffing Solutions. Many of the workers had been with Hyatt for over 20 years.
Leading off a rally held half a block from the hotel following roughly 45 minutes of picketing, Local 26 president Janice Loux explained why her union called the demonstration after being approached by the fired workers - none of whom were union members, "These women who worked in the three hotels for the Hyatt Corporation were fired by Hyatt and replaced by an out of state contractor. For half the wages and no benefits. Many of these room attendants have worked more than 20 years. In the history of the Boston hotels this has never happened. And we are not going to let it happen. We will not stop until the Hyatt Corporation gives these women their jobs back."
Numerous politicians and union leaders then made speeches in support of the fired workers, including Boston City Councilor Maureen Feeney, Boston City Council president Michael Ross, At-Large Boston City Council candidates Robert Fortes and Felix Arroyo, Jr., State Sen. Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), State Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), State Sen. Anthony Gallucio (D-Cambridge), and Richard Rogers of the Greater Boston Labor Council.
Perhaps the most forceful speaker was Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA 8th), who was the first politician to call for a boycott of Hyatt, "In my 57 years of life I have never seen a more outrageous action than the Hyatt Corporation has taken. There's lots of room for arguing and fighting and negotiating contracts - that's normal stuff. What they did ... sucks.
"I'm going to get in trouble for saying that, but I don't know any other word that fits it better. I consider myself a friend of business because we need good strong corporations to give us the jobs and the tax revenues we need. I have no problem with that. There's nothing wrong with making a profit, that's the American way. But there's something about treating people with basic respect that has to be demanded for all of us. What this is ... it's more than just the bottom line. I don't know? Maybe what they should've done is just taken the chocolates off the pillows or something, I don't know. This action demands the strongest reaction possible. Every single politician from school committee to President should not stay at a Hyatt hotel anywhere in the country. Tourism's important. This is important. There's a lot of people that will be impacted. But I can't tell you how strongly I feel about this. And you do too. I pray to god that Hyatt Corporation comes knocking on my door next week. It'll be a closed door meeting if they do - I don't think they will - but it'd be fun. But I tell you I'm a former mayor. Over in Somerville. And you know, there's a couple of hotels over there. Not a Hyatt, thank god. But I'll tell you, sometimes they have to be inspected by the fire department. Sometimes they have to be inspected by the health department. And that's good because we need safe clean hotels. This hotel better be safe and clean.
Capuano wrapped up his remarks, "And let's be serious. Tonight is all well and good. Speeches and rallies, that's good. But you know as well as I do when the Hyatt people wake up tomorrow morning and we're all gone and everything smooths out and there's a nice little story in the paper and pictures on TV, you know they won't like it, but it won't change a darn thing. This is a struggle from now until they change. Because if we let them do this, another hotel will do it. And then their friends do it. And on and on and on and it will be the race to the bottom that we're all afraid of. Which is exactly why organized labor has been so important. This is the best example of why organized labor is so important to this country. I'm going to stand with you every minute of the day on this. Because this is easy. This is so easy. It's so outrageous. And the truth is, I think like many elected officials, when I heard this I think 'it can't be true, nobody's stupid enough to do that!' We need to stand up not just tonight though. We need to not let them wait us out. We will not let the general public off the hook. This is a long time struggle. You need to keep it up. We need to keep it up. And you need to make sure that everyone who represents you does too."
Five of the fired Hyatt workers addressed the crowd towards the end of the rally, concluding with Lucine Williams - who related what happened to her after she lost her job, "You know Hyatt think they can get away with what they do to us. You know they treat us like we're not human beings. You know they put up the sign at the job for us to come down to the meeting first. And when we got to the meeting, the GM I guess he tried to play footsie. Because he probably didn't know how to tell us that he didn't need us anymore. And when he did, people started crying. You know it's very hard working. People had been there for 21 ... I had been there 21 years 11 months. Other housekeepers had been there for 24 years. And you just kick people to the curb. You just take their job away from them and think that it's easy. People have families. They got rent. They got mortgage. They got credit cards. I have a son, my son has asthma. I had to run to the CVS and get medication so that I can stock up for my son. Because the insurance end at the end of the month. So I don't know what will happen after that. But do you think it's fair? [the crowd shouted 'no!' - Ed.] Somebody ought to stop these corporations from just kicking me and you to the curb. You know, one thing I'm happy about today is that we all can come together."
Open Media Boston asked Hyatt Corporation management for comment on the protestors' charges of unfair labor practices and calls for a boycott of Hyatt hotels nationwide. In response, Hyatt public relations manager Katie Rackoff sent the following statement, "Due to the unprecedented economic environment, the Hyatt hotels in Boston – like businesses all over America – have had to make very difficult decisions to adjust costs in response to continuing declines in revenue. Unfortunately, these decisions have affected our associates at Boston-area properties. A restructuring of our housekeeping services included staff reductions that we deeply regret. We are providing the affected associates with assistance, including severance and outplacement counseling.
"Hyatt is committed to treating our employees with honesty and respect. The Hyatt Boston properties have worked with Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS) for several years, with Hyatt and HSS employees working side by side on our housekeeping staffs. During this time, HSS has demonstrated that under our supervision it can provide excellent services, which deliver a level of quality consistent with Hyatt’s demanding standards."
There was a light police presence at the protest, no incidents and no arrests.