ACC Supports Hyatt Hotel workers’ rights

You are here

ACC Supports Hyatt Hotel workers’ rights

CHICAGO, IL. The clergy members of the American Conference of Cantors calls upon Hyatt Hotels Corporation to honor fair labor practices, and to commit to fair and just treatment of all their employees. We add our voices to all those who have expressed support for the employees of the Hyatt Hotel chain.

Today, as labor and management enter into a new round of negotiations, the American Conference of Cantors speaks out in support of the workers’ rights. With hotel financial holdings at record highs, employees feel the hotel chain is taking advantage of the so-called “jobless recovery” to pressure workers to unfairly increase their workload and withdraw benefits and job security.

While Hyatt reports having more in cash and short-term investments than any other company in the hotel industry, it is moving to make the recession permanent for thousands of its workers through layoffs and outsourcing.  They proposed major cuts in established health insurance benefits for its unionized workers.  In some cases, longtime employees were replaced with subcontracted workers, many of whom are required to clean as many as 30 rooms a day and are paid only minimum wage.  Many fired workers were required to train their replacements who do not receive health benefits.  In several cities, workers have called on Hyatt to accept a fair process through which they would be enabled to choose whether or not to join a union.  Hyatt has refused.

Both traditional Jewish law and Reform Judaism have always been unequivocal in support of the workers’ rights to just treatment by their employers. According to our tradition, denying the workers these rights is tantamount to defrauding them.  We therefore join with our brother and sister clergy members in Chicago of many faiths — some of whom will be present to witness these upcoming negotiations — as well as with our colleagues in the Central Conference of American Rabbis, in appealing to the Hyatt Hotel chain to commit to fair and just treatment of all their employees.  The Torah clearly states in Leviticus 19:13 that holding back laborers' wages is tantamount to defrauding them; it indeed demeans those whose livelihood depends on the honor and decency of their employers.

The Hyatt hotel workers have called for a boycott of certain Hyatt hotels. The American Conference of Cantors pledges in its conference business to honor the workers' boycott and will not patronize any of those hotels until a just resolution is reached.

Notes from Cantor Michael Davis who attended the negotiations

Being with the workers yesterday was a remarkable experience. I was proud to sit as a community leader alongside three local rabbis, as well as two Christian ministers. The morning started with the union organizers briefing and acknowledging the 80+ workers who attended the negotiations. Many of them were there on their day off.

We heard moving testimonies by workers from Chicago and Indianapolis. They laid out their work-related struggles and spoke eloquently of the deep unfairness of their employment situations. One worker told of being required to work overtime over the Christian holidays while fellow workers were sent home with no work or pay.

The interfaith clergy group kicked off the morning with brief, inspirational words. By virtue of bearing the ACC statement, I was asked to close that section. I began by explaining that I was speaking on behalf of the ACC, "a 450 member national clergy association". When I read the statement's concluding sentence:

"The American Conference of Cantors pledges in its conference business to honor the workers' boycott and will not patronize any of these hotels [in the boycott list - md] until a just resolution is reached."

The room burst into applause.

Our stand was noticed and our support was appreciated.

In their briefing, the organizers explained that, while the management negotiating team sees the negotiating impasse as a question of money and were considering what will it cost them to fix this problem, for the workers, the question is one of power; how can the workers command respect for their human dignity from their managers and employers. The context, they explained, for achieving their negotiating goals was to take back their power.

And did they ever! After the union briefing, the management negotiating team entered the room. A series of workers gave testimony about how work conditions have deteriorated over time. I was moved to see a low-paid worker sit across the table from the team of executives and address them courteously, yet firmly, and as an equal. The negotiating table levelled the extreme disparity of power, if only for the duration of these meetings. One worker berated the executives for describing the workplace as a "family." He spoke passionately about his own family. In so doing he exposed the manipulative wielding of the word "family" by corporate executives and reclaimed the honest meaning of the word.

Unfortunately, I was not able to stay to hear the teams get into the actual negotiating issues, and it is expected that it will take some time before a full agreement is reached.

Do you know how, sometimes, in moment of heightened emotion, people who you never thought capable of eloquence, speak words of great beauty and power? I'm thinking, for example, of funerals, where a mourner, who never does public speaking, gets up and speaks with love and simple clarity about his deceased loved one.

That's what it felt like to me, time and again, with each worker who got up to speak their truth, courageously - sometimes with trembling fear in their voices - and with integrity.

While I have been involved with this work for a while, including on behalf of Reform Cantors of Chicago, I felt fortunate yesterday to speak on behalf of the ACC. I'm proud to be associated with the ACC and am grateful for the leadership of Susan Caro for the ACC and Shannon McGrady-Bane and Sarah Lipsett for the Social Action and Justice Committee. They lent their leadership to support for the workers and, along with my fellow committee members, articulated that on behalf of the entire membership.