The latest chapter in the ongoing labor dispute between Hyatt Hotels Corp. and workers unfolded Thursday as union members took to the picket line to protest against claims the hotel chain planned to cut worker health benefits by early next year unless their boycott came to an end.
More than 500 protesters, which included members of Unite Here Local 1, health care professionals and clergy members, gathered in front of Hyatt headquarters in support of the more than 1,500 employees who have been in contract negotiations with the company for more than two years.
UNITE HERE Local 1 spokeswoman Susan Tynan said Hyatt announced plans last month to cut worker health benefits by the end of the year, but subsequently extended the deadline to the end of February 2012. She says the hotel is engaging in scare tactics designed to encourage union members to accept the current contract being offered.
“Periodically, our health insurance just expires, and since the contract has expired, we've had to have each extension approved, with the company agreeing to continue to pay the benefits to its employees,” Tynan said. “So they’ve done it the whole time, except for this time now. Because they have a last, best and final offer on the table, they see an opportunity here to force us to take the contract they want us to take by frightening everybody into thinking they’re not going to pay the extension.”
Tynan said talks have mostly stalled on various non-wage issues, including union demands for greater job security and improved worker safety conditions.
“Everybody’s worried, everybody’s scared because they have to take care of their families and take care of themselves,” Tynan said. “And on top of that, we’re trying to work hard and do our jobs well to make money for the company, and having all these extra stresses - especially around the holidays – it’s not pleasant at all.”
For its part, Hyatt responded to the protest with the following written statement:
Though Unite Here continues to indulge in inflammatory rhetoric, Hyatt Hotels Corp. continues to provide our associates at four Chicago-area hotels with health-care coverage. Even though there has not been a union contract in place for two years, Hyatt has paid 100 percent of health-care premiums during this time. Local 1 leadership of Unite Here is the only obstacle standing in the way for our associates to receive wage and benefit increases.
It is well past the time for the leadership of Unite Here to come to the table and let its members vote on a new contract. Hyatt's offer includes a 12 percent increase in wages over the next four years; a 26 percent increase in healthcare, pension and legal contributions over the next four years; and guaranteed, Hyatt-paid healthcare.
Unite Here has agreed to the same wage and benefits package with Hilton and Starwood, but refuses to finish negotiations with Hyatt in Chicago. Hyatt urges Unite Here leadership to do what is right for our Chicago associates and allow their members to vote on the wage and benefits increases they deserve.
The company has declined to comment on whether there were ever plans to cut worker health benefits.
Image: UNITE HERE