Friday, September 03, 2010

Hyatt Regency workers want a good contract

The Hyatt hotel chain wants to cut what past contracts have guaranteed to workers. They say workers' pay and benefits are nibbling too much of their profits.

The union, UNITE HERE Local 2, says the hotel chain is doing just fine. The Great Recession may have cut into hotel profits, but why should workers who make $30 thousand a year or less be expected to prop up a billion dollar business?

Hotels do seem to be climbing out of the recession ahead of most of us. The U.S. Travel Association predicts a 7 percent increase in meeting and convention booking this year. Analysts also expect the average hotel income to increase by 2.3 percent. That's better than most (non-financial) U.S. busineses. The San Francisco Chronicle describes the Hyatt chain as doing particularly well.

Aug. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Hyatt Hotels Corp., the Pritzker family chain that raised $1.09 billion in an initial public offering last year, reported a second-quarter profit as demand for high-end lodging improved. ... Revenue at Hyatt rose 5 percent to $889 million.

This small picket line on Thursday greeted the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention at the boycotted hotel. As seems to be true all over the world, a great many of the people who work in the San Francisco "hospitality industry" are gay. And Local 2 has long recognized the LGBT fraction of its members and protected them in its contracts. So this morning's picket was a gay affair, very much in the style of Sleep with the Right People.

A long time activist (straight and never narrow) asked me what I thought of this banner which was the most prominent
message at the event. I'm still musing on my answer. I understand the intent of the slogan given the presumed audience: it's saying something I'd paraphrase as remember LGBT workers are gay like you, journalists, and we think having a good unions is a wonderful thing.

The banner certainly also proclaims unions don't have to be stodgy; they can stand for fun as well as grim struggle. That's vital and the message is attractive, just like the fabulously popular Bad Hotel video (over 250 thousand views) from the same folks.

But there's a part of me that wonders -- how does this kind of messaging work for the rest of the workers, the ones who don't identify as gay? They're there in the picket line -- it's their work site too. How does it work for the casual passerby? They probably think the whole picket is some obscure San Francisco gay thing. Does that matter? I'm not sure. Because I follow these things, I know that an owner of a local Hyatt in San Diego was a $125 thousand funder of Prop. 8, the 2008 ballot measure that outlawed gay marriage. But the way the gay issue was communicated at this picket line doesn't explain that.

I know what I'm seeing here is good messaging at a Pride festival. I know it is important to communicate that labor events can be joyful. Gay unionists and friends must be able to be as gay as we want to be in the context of labor struggles. But somehow, in the particular time and place of Thursday's picket, I didn't feel we were communicating as many messages as we would want to ... More creativity is required ... Now that's something LGBT labor activists have demonstrated over and over through the years.

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