Hyatt scores point in union dispute, but battle to escalate

UNITE Here RallyUnite Here expected to call for global boycott of hotel chain

By Kathy Bergen, Chicago Tribune

Hyatt Hotels Corp. chalked up a win this week in its three-year standoff with the hotel workers union, but the battle is expected to escalate Monday with a union call for a global boycott.

Richard Killiher-Paz, the acting regional director of the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago, found merit in unfair labor practice charges brought by Hyatt in relation to contract talks here. To resolve the allegations, the NLRB office drafted a settlement agreement that two Unite Here locals signed early this week.

The locals, representing workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt Chicago, Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and Hyatt Regency O’Hare, agreed to engage in bargaining sessions “with reasonable frequency” and not to engage in conduct “that frustrates reaching an agreement.”

They also agreed to drop proposed contract language on strikes and work stoppages that the NLRB regional director found to be illegally worded.

“The whole point is the union does not want to come to an agreement because it wants Hyatt to give them nonunion hotels in other cities and states,” said Peter Andjelkovich, attorney for Hyatt.

Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel dismissed the NLRB finding as “a technicality.”

“The fact remains that Hyatt has refused to move forward on the safety of its housekeepers and its use of subcontracting,” she said.

John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here, said in an earlier interview that “Hyatt is leading the industry in subcontracting entire departments to outside labor contractors.” When subcontractors are used, union workers end up being replaced with nonunion workers with lower wages and benefits, he said, adding that workloads are greater, putting workers’ health at risk.

Mark Hoplamazian, president and chief executive officer of Hyatt, said recently the hotel industry for decades has used subcontractors to provide staffing flexibility in a business with peaks and valleys, and for special circumstances. Hyatt is no different, he said. The company is not proposing any increased use of subcontracting in Chicago, Andjelkovich said.

The union’s real issue, Hoplamazian asserts, is that it wants the ability to recruit members in other nonunion markets using the card check method, in which organizers gather signatures from workers. Hyatt favors secret ballot elections.

Wilhelm said Unite Here is “seeking a fair process” for union recruiting.

On Monday, Unite Here is expected to announce a global boycott of Hyatt, ratcheting up its pressure. The union already had called for boycotts of specific properties across the U.S.

While Hyatt has settled union contract talks in some markets, it remains at loggerheads with Unite Here in several key cities.

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