Editorials and Opinions

Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s unresolved injustices

By Alice Lee
Published: October 2009

Since the layoffs in late August, the Hyatt Hotels Corporation has responded to a wave of public disapproval, which included a proposed boycott on the part of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

The 98 fired housekeepers of the three Boston-area Hyatt hotels have thus been offered new jobs from an affiliate of United Service Companies at the Hyatt’s wage rates. Employees who accept will receive extended healthcare coverage through March 2010 from the Hyatt Corporation.

Those who choose not to accept the United Service jobs’€the majority of the laid-off workers’€have been offered career services and training opportunities through a partnership the Hyatt has formed with Manpower and Right Management.

At face value, the Hyatt’s conciliatory extension of benefits atones for its layoffs. But there remains the fact that the benefits were only motivated by the outraged cries of the public, and that the eight-dollars-an-hour outsourced labor that replaced the fired staff remains in the Hyatt’s employ.

Massachusetts Senate Democrats Anthony Galluccio (Cambridge), Jack Hart (South Boston), and Anthony Petruccelli (East Boston) proposed a Senate resolution on October 1 urging a boycott of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation in response to its abrupt dismissal of 98 housekeepers in late August.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei (Malden and Melrose), however, spoke out in protest, condemning the proposed resolution as anti-business and saying that it is unprecedented for the state to urge residents to boycott a private employer. According to Tisei, the boycott would be “like throwing ice water on the economy. The message it sends out is so bad.

By Minority Leader Tisei’s reasoning, it is perfectly justifiable for a corporation that boasted a 1.3 billion dollar profit between 2004-2008 to dismiss 98 housekeepers and replace them with minimum-wage labor. The “message that such a boycott would send out is the same one that Governor Patrick has communicated, and it’s simple: what the Hyatt Corporation did was morally wrong.

Certainly, the Hyatt did no legal wrong. It broke no laws in dismissing its workers without warning; it was not illegal to mislead staff into thinking that the minimum-wage outsourced labor they trained would only be vacation fill-ins.

But such actions defy every principle of human decency and respect’€“basic fairness, in the words of Governor Patrick. The hotels abruptly threw their housekeepers out into the very same weak economy that the corporation cited as their motivation.

These workers were, of course, not the only ones to lose their jobs in the recent economic hardship. Still, that does not condone the wrongness of the Hyatt’s actions. Phil Stamm, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Boston, even admitted that “[the corporation] did not handle all parts of the transition in a way that reflects our organization’s values.

So when Governor Patrick condemned them and public reproach steadily mounted, the corporation smoothed things over, not by reinstating the 98 jobless housekeepers, but by doling out healthcare and offering jobs from the very same outsourcing firm, United Service Companies, that supplied the replacement workers’€who have received very little attention thus far. In fact, they remain in service at the three Boston-area Hyatt hotels, working for barely livable wages.

Minority Leader Tisei and likeminded senators blocked the proposition for a government boycott, but action on a smaller level is still wholly possible. While unions and workers have been staging protests and pickets as far as Chicago, students have a more limited window through which to assert that such injustices are morally reprehensible and not to be tolerated.

South should reflect on its use of the Hyatt Regency Cambridge as the common venue for its annual semi-formal. Through this event, which directly connects the school to the Hyatt and its policies, students have an opportunity to bring about change.

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