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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 14 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 07
Controversy swirls around Hyatt hotel boycott
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Controversy swirls around Hyatt hotel boycott

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A wedding show scheduled for February 16 has set local hotel workers at odds with the GSBA (Greater Seattle Business Association), an alliance of businesses who market to the LGBT community.

The One Love Wedding Expo has booked space at the Hyatt at Olive 8 hotel, which has been under a boycott called by its workers since August last year. Workers say they want to decide for themselves whether to join a union, and hotel management will not agree to a fair decision-making process.

UNITE HERE Local 8, the union that represents local hotel and restaurant workers, says they were getting nowhere negotiating with local Hyatt owner Richard Hedreen on a fair process, in spite of an agreement with Hyatt corporate officers.

'In July, UNITE HERE and Hyatt Hotels at the corporate level reached a national agreement on such a process, which has gone forward at other Hyatts in the U.S.' the union says in a statement on its website. 'To date, local owner Richard Hedreen has refused to implement the agreed elections process in Seattle.'

Local Hyatt workers say that management has also begun to bring in subcontracted workers who are paid less and get even fewer benefits than regular employees.

One woman worker told SGN that she now has to work in three or four hotels 'to cobble together a living,' one reason why she hopes the Hyatt will agree on a process for employees to decide if they want a union. She asked not to be identified by name or department, because 'I still need to get hours [at the hotel].'

Wedding Expo to move in 2015
Jenny Harding, owner of One Love Wedding Expo, told SGN she would hold the event in a different venue next year, but was unable to pull out of her 2014 contract for the space.

'I'm fully, fully supportive of what they're trying to do,' she said. 'If it had been easy to move, absolutely! But the hotel would not let me out of my event agreement.

'I have $10,000 worth of expenses [for the One Love event]. I don't see how taking down one person to uplift another does any good.'

UNITE HERE organizer Levi Pine said Harding's decision to move her wedding show in 2015 'reflects what kind of person she is. It reflects her good intentions.'

Pine had reached out to Harding earlier, when he first heard that her event was scheduled at a boycotted hotel, to ask her to respect the boycott. Pine told SGN that he has no issue with the Expo itself.

'I think the event is providing a wonderful service for my own LGBT community,' he said. 'And there are enough people who want to get married that it can be a successful business opportunity.

'But,' he added, 'the setting doesn't reflect the will of the community.'

According to Pine, after a single conversation with Harding, her attorney sent Pine a cease and desist letter, preventing further contact.

So on January 27, Pine sent an email to other members of the GSBA asking them to request that fellow-GSBA member Harding move her wedding show to a different venue.

'[The Hyatt at Olive 8] along with the Grand Hyatt Seattle, is under a worker-called boycott as workers fight for dignity and respect on the job,' Pine wrote. 'As a GSBA member, your opinion is important. Please get in touch with Ms. Harding and encourage her to support workers' rights by moving her event out of the Hyatt.'

The email infuriated GSBA Executive Director Louise Chernin, who sent out an email the same day accusing UNITE HERE of 'targeting and harassment of women- and LGBT-owned small businesses.'

Community supports boycott
Veteran Gay activist Cleve Jones, who now works for UNITE HERE, dismissed the bullying and harassment charges as 'preposterous!'

Most LGBT organizations and community allies support the Hyatt boycott, Jones told SGN.

'HRC moved four events from other boycotted Hyatts,' Jones noted. The Low Income Housing Institute also moved an event out of the Hyatt at Olive 8 in solidarity with low-income hotel workers, Jones added, 'and they're not flush with cash.'

Seattle Counseling Service, whose signature ICON fundraiser was held at Hedreen's Grand Hyatt in 2013, will reportedly hold the event at a different venue this year, and Q Law's annual dinner will also move to a different hotel.

Neither Pine nor Jones could confirm that the groups had moved their events in response to the boycott, but Pine told SGN that the changes were 'encouraging.'

The Hyatt boycott is also supported by local political leaders, Pine pointed out. On November 12 last year, all nine members of the Seattle City Council wrote to Hyatt owner Richard Hedreen advising him that 'agreeing to a process that would bring an end to the disruptive boycotts seems like a step in the right direction for you, the workers in your hotels, and the City.'

UNITE HERE and LGBT rights
Jones, in Seattle for an event with Eastside Catholic School students protesting the firing of Vice Principal Mark Zmuda for marrying his partner, broke into politics almost 40 years ago as an aide to San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, and went on to found the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. In 2009, he was the main organizer of the National Equality March in Washington, DC.

'More than half of [UNITE HERE's] members are women, and more than half of our new young [union] leaders are LGBT,' he told SGN proudly. 'On Levi's boycott team, they're so young and so energetic - and so Queer!'

UNITE HERE Local 8, which represents some 5,000 workers in the Pacific Northwest, has long been a champion of LGBT rights.

In 2006, Local 8 signed on to an amicus brief supporting the right of Gay and Lesbian couples to marry in the Andersen case. In 2007, the union won the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers, at Seattle's landmark Westin Hotel.

In 2008, UNITE HERE's national executive board unanimously endorsed marriage equality, one of the first national union organizations to do so. In 2009 Local 8 supported R-71 for comprehensive domestic partnerships, and in 2012 it endorsed R-74 for equal marriage rights.S

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