Hotel workers on strike at Grand Hyatt in San Francisco

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Hotel workers walked off the job this morning at the Grand Hyatt Union Square in San Francisco, announcing a 3-day strike against the property.

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Hotel workers walked off the job this morning at the Grand Hyatt Union Square in San Francisco, announcing a 3-day strike against the property. The Grand Hyatt is owned and operated by Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which today is conducting an initial public offering expected to raise close to US$1 billion for its principal owners, the Pritzker family.

“Hyatt’s cashing out almost a billion dollars for its owners, but at the same time they’re pushing to make health care unaffordable for me and my family?” remarked Aurolyn Rush, a 13-year telephone operator at the Grand Hyatt. “That is unforgivable, and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The work stoppage comes two weeks after members of Unite Here Local 2 voted by over 92 percent to authorize strikes at any of 31 upscale hotel properties in San Francisco. Workers at the Grand Hyatt will return to work on Sunday, November 8 but have called for customers to honor an ongoing boycott at that property. Workers at other San Francisco hotels remain on the job, though job actions remain a possibility elsewhere.

“This is a limited strike,” said Mike Casey, president of Local 2. “It’s intended to send a clear signal to this corporation that they cannot use a temporary downturn to permanently drive down workers’ living standards.”

Despite amassing record profits over the preceding five years, hotel corporations in San Francisco and elsewhere have been using the economic downturn as an excuse to squeeze workers for long-term concessions. During the past two months, Local 2 has indicated an openness to reaching an exceptionally low-cost contract settlement, totaling as little as a 1.5 percent increase in labor costs. Nonetheless, the industry has persisted in trying to win permanent takeaways in the areas of affordable health coverage and retiree coverage.

Hyatt has distinguished itself for its pursuit of profit at any price. In Boston, for example, Hyatt recently fired all housekeepers at its three non-union hotels, replacing them with outsourced workers paid about half of what the fired workers had earned. The company’s CEO, meanwhile, was paid US$6.7 million in compensation in 2008, and its chairman received a bonus of US$1.4 million.

Unite Here! Local 2 is the union of hotel and food service workers in San Francisco and San Mateo Counties. It represents about 12,000 workers in the hospitality industry. For more information, visit www.unitehere2.org .

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