Unions want to turn Hyatt into a roach motel

Once you check in, you can never check out. At least that's the goal of Unite Here, which is protesting Hyatt hotels nationwide in response to the company's decision to hire cheaper labor. In Boston, for instance, three Boston area hotels fired 98 staff (some of whom earned more than $15 an hour) on Aug. 31 and replaced them with $8-an-hour employees of Georgia-based Hospitality Staffing Solutions.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick went so far as to threaten a state-employee boycott of the chain in response. In Long Beach, Calif., Unite Here Local 11 is holding protests to get the hotel to sign a neutrality agreement. But such an agreement is anything but, given that the hotel wouldn't be able to request a proper democratic secret-ballot process.

This is a bad time to expect job stability from the hotel industry. Occupancy rates nationwide have been hovering below 60% this summer, the lowest since the immediate post-Sept. 11 period. Revenue per room has dropped by 20%, the steepest in 22 years.

While such shortfalls mean that hotels need to slim down, the political implications are myriad. On Friday, the Providence, R.I. City Council unanimously approved an ordinance requiring the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Rhode Island Convention Center, Veterans Memorial Auditorium, and three hotels to retain employees for up to six months following a change in management.

Unite Here cheered the bill. Carmen Castillo, a housekeeper at the Westin, said: “We're going to keep fighting and we're not going to let what happened in Boston happen here.”

But city revenue from the hotel tax has dropped nearly 11 percent from July 2008 to July 2009. But drawing blood from a stone seems reasonable to councilman Michael Solomon: “We're not going to put the hotels out of business. All we're talking about is six months.”

It's not like hotels want to lay these people off for kicks. It's merely to ensure the survival of the business. But to unions, businesses exist merely to provide the maximum number of jobs possible, rather than meet consumer demand. It's just that kind of logic which will sink the hotel industry.

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