Their victory is bittersweet. Five years after being fired by Hyatt Hotel, 98 former Boston area housekeepers will split a $1 million settlement.
The hospitality workers union filed suit against local Hyatt hotels after they replaced the housekeepers with lower paid workers. Hyatt then asked the housekeepers to train them, saying they were vacation fill ins. The replacements were also cheaper $8 an hour versus the housekeepers’ $15 plus benefits. The housekeepers took their story public, and their protests to the streets.
Today it’s fast food workers who epitomize the battle for a living wage, but I see the Hyatt workers protest as a forerunner. Their demonstrations roused public awareness and anger; theirs was a cause celebration among labor activists, unions, women’s groups, and consumer advocates. Arguing fairness and safety, The Cambridge License Commission approved a resolution to prevent any hotel from outsourcing jobs, especially ones involving guest rooms.
More support came from Governor Deval Patrick who criticized Hyatt management saying, “There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and this was wrong.” Patrick wielded his political muscle to block state contractors from using Hyatt properties. And the Boston City Council approved a similar measure.
Hyatt lost big money because of the state and city bans, but also from boycott supporters like me. I had been a frequent visitor to the Hyatt Cambridge, inviting friends to enjoy the panoramic view from the very top of the hotel. At first I consciously avoided going there, and then it became a habit. There were a few times when --- much to my embarrassment-- I was required to attend meetings there. Bargain hunting conference planners took advantage of the reduced rates the boycott forced. But, as time passed and the daily bullhorns and picketers disappeared, some people drifted back.
During the last five years, the Boston area Hyatt properties refused to settle, while the fired workers struggled to make ends meet.
Now the Boston Globe reports that some of the 98 workers could get as much as $40,000 in the settlement. But as one worker remarked, “I don’t think they can ever make up for what they did.”
I should have known that Hyatt’s agreeing to settle the lawsuit had little to do with finally making things right, despite the hotel spokesperson’s comment about it representing “care for our colleagues.” Make that care for Hyatt’s bottom line. Because the company settled, Hyatt is now a viable competitor for the rights to operate a new 1000 room hotel at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Even if they win the contract, I don’t think I’ll be a celebrating the opening.
I’m out of the habit anyway.