Fighting Back Against Hyatt's War on Mamas

Friday, May 11, 2012

by Julia Wong

2012 has been a year of wars. There’s the War on Women – an intense legislative assault on women’s access to reproductive health care – and the War on Workers – be they public sector workers trying to hold on to their right to bargain collectively or private sector workers staving off subcontracting, outsourcing, and union-busting. The battleground in the War on Immigrants has shifted from Arizona to Alabama and, finally, to the US Supreme Court. The War on Moms was an attempt by Republicans to brand Democrats as hostile to stay-at-home mothers, and the Real War on Moms was an attempt by Democrats to refocus the debate on the disastrous effect that right-wing economic, immigration, and health care policies have on poor and working-class women and their families.

At the nexus of these wars are immigrant women struggling to make a living and raise their families. And the rhetoric of warfare makes it tempting to cast these women as victims. But this Mama’s Day, I want to recognize an incredible group of women who are fighting back – the women who work for Hyatt Hotels.

Let me introduce you to some of these women:

· Nenita Ibe is 69 years old. She lives in a garage with her son. She came to the US from the Philippines 15 years ago, hoping for a job that would help her to support her five children.
· Victoria Guillen came to the US in Peru as a single mother, hoping for a better future for her daughter. She now has another daughter, Cielo, who is two-years old.
· Martha Reyes has five children, and custody of three grandchildren. Her sister, Lorena Reyes, has three children, and is the sole supporter of her family since her husband was laid off.
· Sonia Ordonez came to the US from Nicaragua twenty years ago with a baby in her arms to escape a civil war. She arrived, only to find herself in an abusive marriage. For her own and her two children’s safety, she left her husband, and worked one job by day and another at night to support her family.

All of these women work (or used to work) for Hyatt, as room cleaners, servers, cooks, and dishwashers. All of these women are immigrants and mothers. All of these women have spoken up and demanded better treatment for themselves and their co-workers. And all of these women have been hurt or attacked by the Hyatt Corporation.

Nenita has lost the full use of her right arm after injuring herself making Hyatt’s heavy beds. Victoria was threatened with being fired by Hyatt when she could not return to work a few days after giving birth by Caesarian Section. Martha and Lorena were fired after an objection was made to the posting of demeaning pictures of housekeepers in bikinis on a company bulletin board. Sonia was unjustly fired just a few weeks ago, after sharing her story of Hyatt’s abuses with countless community leaders and even speaking out at Hyatt’s shareholder meeting last year.

In a traditional war, these women and their co-workers would be outgunned and outmatched. Hyatt, after all, is a global corporation controlled by a family of billionaires. Hyatt leads the hotel industry in the abusive practice of subcontracting, which enables it to pay housekeepers poverty wages while evading legal liability for unsafe working conditions. Hyatt housekeeper injury rates are high, and, in a first for the hotel industry, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a letter to Hyatt notifying it of ergonomic risk factors faced by housekeepers in the course of their daily work. Just last month, Hyatt posted E-Verify posters at a non-union Hyatt property in Santa Clara, causing concern among long-term immigrant workers at the hotel. And Hyatt has refused the request of workers across the country that Hyatt accept a fair process to enable them to choose whether or not to join a union without employer intimidation.

But these are strong, immigrant mamas and they’re fighting back! Victoria’s co-workers at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco took the fight to management and successfully fought for her reinstatement. Victoria has met with dozens of Bay Area organizations to share her story and galvanize support for Hyatt workers. Nenita filed an injury complaint with OSHA alongside housekeepers from eleven other Hyatt hotels, and continues to speak out about housekeeper injuries at the Hyatt. Martha and Lorena Reyes have traveled across the country advocating for immigrant women workers. They were recently honored for their work by the South Bay Labor Council Committee on Political Education (COPE). Sonia continues to fight for her job, and she too refuses to allow Hyatt’s abuse to silence her. In a letter to supporters, she said, “I need this job, but I’ve come too far to take abuse from anyone. That’s why I have raised my voice. I believe that all workers should have this right.”

And the number one message that all of these women are sharing? Boycott Hyatt!

That’s right, workers at Hyatt’s across the country are calling on customers not to eat, sleep, meet, or spend any money at their hotels until they achieve justice from the Hyatt corporation. So in celebration of Mama’s Day and in honor of Victoria, Nenita, Martha, Lorena, Sonia, and all of the mothers who work at Hyatt, please join our campaign and pledge to boycott Hyatt Hotels.

Julia Wong is an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 2, the union of hotel and restaurant workers in San Francisco.

This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.