By Jen Sabella
On Thursday morning, hundreds of unionized hotel workers gathered outside of Chicago’s Park Hyatt. After nearly two years of negotiations, they demanded a new contract, protested working conditions and decried the company’s alleged plans to outsource jobs. The steamy weather did not keep workers away — and neither did heat lamps the hotel allegedly turned on during the demonstration.
Gabriel Carrasquillo, a server at the Hyatt hotel’s restaurant NoMI, told HuffPost Chicago that he arrived at 800 N. Michigan Ave. around 5:15 a.m. to start the picket line. Around 7 a.m., however, things really began to heat up. That is when Unite Here Local 1 members realized the hotel had turned on their 10 heat lamps, which are installed beneath the building’s awning to keep guests warm during the cold winter months. According to the National Weather Service, the heat index in Chicago was 109.4 degrees by the early afternoon.
A spokeswoman for the Hyatt told HuffPost Chicago that the lights were, indeed, on early Thursday morning, but “as soon as that fact came to our attention, they were turned off immediately (approximately 7:30 am).” She also said the hotel offered water and “other relief” to guests and employees in front of the hotel.
Carrasquillo said the extra hot temperatures did not scare the workers away. “You can’t smoke us out,” they chanted. He also said the lights do not turn on automatically, and that if it was a mistake, the hotel wouldn’t have “left them on for 45 minutes.”
The hotel’s public relations director reportedly witnessed a WBEZ reporter talking to picketers and taking notes, and “was trying to get a gist of what was going on with the reporting,” Carrasquillo said. “They were aware [of the heat lamps being on],” he added. “It wasn’t a mistake.”
Carrasquillo said he and his coworkers have been trying to negotiate a contract with the hotel for nearly two years. While Hyatt has agreed to the union’s pay and benefits package, Carrasquillo said benefits won’t help him if his job is outsourced.
“This is an issue of job security,” he said. “Job security isn’t something that they’re budging on. Everything they are promising will mean nothing if they replace me with a worker who gets paid a lot less.”
According to Unite Here, the Hyatt has been replacing long-term employees with low paid temp workers nationwide. In Boston, the union said, Hyatt “fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels, replacing women who had worked at Hyatt for decades with temporary workers at far lower rates of pay.”
The Hyatt has accused Unite Here of holding up negotiations to draw attention to themselves and grow their membership in other cities.
“Union leadership knows that the elements are all in place for a contract to be finalized here in Chicago,” Hyatt said in a statement. “Our most recent proposal does not ask for any employee concessions and matches the pay and benefits package the union has agreed to with other Chicago area hotels, yet this was rejected by Unite Here leadership. After negotiating in good faith for nearly two years, Hyatt had no choice but to file an unfair labor practice charge against Unite Here Chicago Local #1 for stalling negotiations.”
Thursday’s demonstrations took place at Hyatt hotels nationwide. In San Francisco, 80 people were arrested during a protest by hotel workers. In Cambridge, Mass., 35 people were arrested outside the hotel, where about 200 union members gathered to represent the “Hyatt 100”– the 98 Boston-area cleaning workers who were fired from the hotel two years ago, according to Wicked Local Cambridge. In San Antonio, Texas, 11 people spent the night in jail after allegedly blocking the street near a local Hyatt hotel.
In Chicago, the union was set to return to the negotiating table on Monday. Carrasquillo said he hopes after two years of negotiations, something will finally be resolved.
“[Some] of us believe that they are trying to wear us down,” he said. “The concessions they want from me aren’t essential for the financial well-being of the company, they are looking to increase their profits at my expense.”