A few weeks before the 2005 Nonprofit Workout conference, I was contacted by a representative of the hotel workers union, UNITE HERE, asking that we move our conference from the Hyatt Regency Cambridge to another venue. It was then that I first learned about a national boycott of non-union hotels resulting from a West Coast dispute over safe working conditions, health care and other benefits.
The union began a boycott of a number of non-union hotels across the country to:
- Press for fair contracts in Los Angeles and San Francisco
- Advance the growth of unionization within the hotel industry
The boycotted hotels, which include Starwood, Hyatt and Intercontinental hotel properties, are operated by multinational chains that have been locked in bitter contract disputes with workers in San Francisco and Los Angeles. According to UNITE HERE, it began the nationwide boycott “to show the industry it can no longer expect to attack workers in one city and avoid a fight throughout the hotel industry in North America.”
Spreading the Message
A former hotel room attendant spoke briefly at the 2005 Nonprofit Workout about the UNITE-HERE national hotel boycott. Sadly for fear of retaliation, she asked that her identity not be revealed.
Extensive preparations for the Nonprofit Workout had been made by the conference team, and most registrants had already booked rooms as part of their travel plans. Although we felt that moving the event at that late date would be too confusing and disruptive for registrants, further conversations with the union representatives provided us with other tangible ways to support both the union and the boycott.
Following a unanimous vote by the TSNE Board of Directors, I immediately wrote a letter to the Hyatt saying that we would not hold or attend any events at its hotels until the boycott ends. (The hotel responded to TSNE, characterizing the workers’ demands as unreasonable.) Additionally, we offered a union representative an opportunity to address the conference at the Tuesday, May 17 opening session.
Speaking before a very receptive opening session audience, a hotel room attendant who formerly worked at the Hyatt Regency Boston (who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation) described how the heavy work of cleaning hotel rooms has impacted her body. She described how years of making beds, scrubbing floors and bathrooms, and increased workloads have caused her lower back pain and repetitive stress injuries that require pain medication and physical therapy. The audience applauded when she declared, “It is an outrage that these hotel companies are making millions of dollars in profits and yet they refuse to provide affordable health care to workers who are getting health problems due to the heavy work they do.”