LGBTs on both sides
in Hyatt protest
by David-Elijah Nahmod
About two-dozen protesters demonstrated outside the San Francisco Hyatt Hotel last week, as a gay networking group hosted an event inside.
The action was organized by Sleep with the Right People, a coalition of UNITE HERE union hotel workers and the LGBT community.
Workers at the Hyatt are in long-running contract negotiations with management and have asked members of the LGBT community to boycott the hotels. The March 21 action took place at the Hyatt at 1 Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco. UNITE HERE represents more than 250,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada.
The action was held to protest a meet and greet cocktail party that was hosted by dot429, an LGBT professionals networking and support organization. Dot429 was honoring members of Hy Pride, Hyatt's in-house support group for LGBT employees. Protesters were calling upon Dot 429 and Hy Pride members to honor their boycott of Hyatt hotels.
The demonstration was peaceful. Protesters marched in a circle in front of the hotel's main entrance, holding signs and chanting slogans such as, "Don't check in! Check out!" The protesters and those entering the hotel behaved respectfully toward each other. There was a small police presence at the protest, but there were no incidents of unrest.
The protesters take issue with what they say is Hyatt's practice of unfairly firing long-term workers in order to hire new employees for less pay. The hotel has also been taken to task for alleged cases of sexual harassment against female Hyatt employees. Martha Reyes, who worked at the Santa Clara Hyatt for six years, claims she was fired for objecting to pictures of Hyatt housekeepers' faces attached to the bodies of women in bikinis.
David Lewin, the general manager of the San Francisco Hyatt, spoke to the Bay Area Reporter the day after the protest.
"Our employees are the second highest paid in the industry," Lewin said. "They get 100 percent paid medical and dental coverage. We were the first hotel chain to offer domestic partnerships to LGBT couples. Our record speaks for itself, we are very proud of the way we treat our LGBT employees."
Lewin claims that the boycott has caused cancellations of numerous events that had been scheduled to take place at the hotel. He suggested that these cancellations, in turn, caused hotel employees to lose needed work shifts.
"It's unfortunate that UNITE HERE is focused on street theater and bullying and not in negotiating the contract that their membership desires," he said.
Dot429 Chief Operating Officer Bill Hansen said the group went ahead with its event because it doesn't think Hyatt mistreats its workers.
"We respect UNITE HERE's right to call for a boycott," Hansen said in an email. "We choose to partner with and promote companies who, in our opinion, create positive environments for the LGBT community at large. After speaking with a UNITE HERE representative, it was made clear that Hyatt does not specifically mistreat LGBT employees. After carefully reviewing all relevant information available to us, we cannot in good faith conclude that Hyatt is guilty of creating the hostile workplace that UNITE HERE asserts. In fact, all available evidence leads us to a conclusion that directly contradicts many of UNITE HERE's accusations."
Some Hyatt workers disagree.
"Hyatt has really stepped over the line in terms of trying to roll back our standards as union workers and non-union workers alike," Don Olson, a 33-year server at Hyatt San Francisco, said in a statement forwarded to the B.A.R. by UNITE HERE spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel. "That's why we are asking all LGBT people and groups to honor the global Hyatt boycott that we, the Hyatt workers, have called for. I'm proud to be part of a union that has been on the front lines for the LGBT rights movement, and to be part of an LGBT movement that is on the front lines of the worker movement."