by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
'I call on all of Seattle, and especially my beloved LGBT community - don't book events at Hyatt hotels!' said veteran Trans activist Marsha Botzer to a crowd of 100 hotel workers and their supporters August 27.
Botzer, co-founder of the Ingersoll Gender Center, stood in front of the Hyatt at Olive 8 to support a boycott of Seattle Hyatt hotels, called by Hyatt workers. The Hyatt at Olive 8 has been the focus of an organizing drive by UNITE HERE Local 8, the union that represents local hospitality and food service workers.
'If you want to support an organization that's having an event in a Hyatt hotel,' Botzer continued, 'give them the money directly. And tell them why you're doing that.'
Until very recently, the Hyatt Hotel Corporation was under a global boycott launched in July 2012. On July 1 this year, Hyatt and UNITE HERE announced that they had settled on a process to allow Hyatt workers to unionize. The Hyatt Corporation promised to remain neutral and no longer campaign against unionization of their facilities.
The only catch is that some Hyatt hotels are owned by local investors and not by the corporation. Seattle's Hyatt at Olive 8 and Grand Hyatt are owned by developer Richard Hedreen, for example. Individual owners can opt out of the nationwide settlement, and Hedreen has chosen to do so.
According to Hyatt at Olive 8 workers, Hedreen is using intimidation tactics to prevent them from unionizing. Speaking through an interpreter, houseman Yuan Ping Tang said that morning employee meetings are regularly used to warn Hyatt workers not to allow union organizers into their homes.
Tang, who Local 8 president Erik van Rossum calls 'one of the bravest workers I've ever met,' also spoke at the rally in front of his workplace.
'The boycott may cost workers like me money,' he said, 'but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.'
Among the problems faced by Hyatt workers, Tang said, was the cost of the health insurance offered by the company, which could be as high as $400 per month for a family of four. Tang also said that the hotel is using more subcontracted workers - paying them even less and offering fewer benefits than their regular workers.
OFFICIALS LEND SUPPORT
Although hotel work is generally a low-wage occupation, the Hyatt workers have won powerful friends. King County Council president Larry Gossett and Council members Joe McDermott, Julia Patterson, and Larry Phillips have endorsed the boycott.
Speaking at the August 27 rally, Gossett recalled that 'a year ago, I was part of a delegation that met with Hyatt management and asked them to agree to a fair process for workers to decide if they wanted a union.
'At that time,' Gossett continued, 'they said 'Yes.' But now they're saying 'No.' Businesses bring money into our community and we want that to continue, but we will not sit by and do nothing while they exploit their workers.'
GSBA Executive Director Louise Chernin, whose organization includes Seattle's Hyatt hotels as members, told SGN that her group 'always supports a living wage,' and added she hopes 'everyone will negotiate in good faith.'
'We have nothing booked [at Hyatt hotels] right now,' she explained, 'and we're already booked for the year, so it's not an issue for us right now. If it became an issue I'd have to take it to the Board.
'I know there's a national agreement and the local hotels aren't on board with that yet, but hopefully it will be settled soon.'
In 2007 UNITE HERE Local 8 won the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers, at the Westin. In 2008 the union's national executive board endorsed marriage equality.
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