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Hotel workers Unite HERE

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Unite HERE hosted a protest outside of the Hyatt building on Nov. 10 to raise community awareness regarding unfair working conditions within the hotel.
  • Image by Keelee Hurlburt
  • Unite HERE hosted a protest outside of the Hyatt building on Nov. 10 to raise community awareness regarding unfair working conditions within the hotel.

The intersection of Washington and Capital echoed with resounding cries of “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” on Nov. 10 as Unite HERE sought to raise awareness for Indy’s hotel workers.

Unite HERE, a national union for hotel and hospitality workers, organized the demonstration in front of the Hyatt as part of a national campaign entitled Hotel Workers Rising.

Wednesday’s demonstration was the second in a series of protests organized by Unite HERE in an effort to educate the public about the poor working conditions and low wages that hotel workers in Indy are dealing with.

“Indianapolis hotel workers are some of the most overworked and undervalued in the nation,” Unite HERE member Liam Roche said.

Roche went on to cite the fact that management continues to “subcontract more and more jobs to a company that boasts of a 12 percent personnel cost reduction and does not offer adequate health coverage, paid sick or vacation time.”

Executive decisions such as these are what prompted Jackie White, a housekeeper at the Hyatt, to attend the protest despite her reservations to participate after she received a citation from the police at a similar event in Chicago.

“I believe that this is the right thing to do,” she explained, stating that it was time to speak up. “We are asking them to allow employees to choose for themselves if they want to organize without the fear of losing their jobs.”

White’s bravery is impressive considering the threat of negative repercussions from Hyatt which loomed overhead as tangibly as the massive 23-story hotel building that cast its shadow over the protest.

“There is fear and intimidation in the hotel,” Becky Smith, Unite HERE’s community organizer, said.

According to Smith, union leaders who work at the hotel have been targeted by Hyatt’s management. In one instance, a worker was called into the office after being secretly video taped while talking to another employee in the bathroom.

While the individual in question was not fired, Hyatt’s management told the worker that the type of employee who conducts himself or herself in such a manner is “not the type of employee we want here.”

The unfair treatment of the hotel workers has escalated since Nov. 2008 when a majority of Hyatt workers petitioned management for a fair process to decide whether or not to unionize.

The petition was denied, which sparked protests and boycotts in order to gain the attention of Hyatt’s customers, who hold more sway over the company’s decisions than the employees.

“It’s about community awareness,” Smith said. “[The protest] is a morale booster for workers to show how empowered they are. It also shows Hyatt that the community and workers are 100 percent behind the boycott.”

Unite HERE’s efforts seem to be working. Out of the roughly 100 people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the hotel, Smith estimated that only 10-15 percent were Hyatt employees. The rest of the group consisted of community leaders, clergy members, and local college students.

The diversity of the crowd assembled was a touching tribute of the support the community has shown for the union movement.

“It’s amazing to see that other people have interest,” White said, a big grin stealing over her face as she surveyed the crowd. “I’m surprised. I really am.”

Unite HERE will continue to work for the fair process they feel hotel workers need and deserve.

“Indianapolis has invested a lot of taxpayer money into the convention and hospitality industry,” Roche said. “While the hotels and convention center are finally catching up to the exemplary reputation of Hoosier Hospitality, it is the workers and the neighborhoods who are getting left behind.”

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