Hyatt, union at odds over voting method

March 4, 2011

Officials for the Hyatt Regency Hotel Indianapolis on Thursday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board requesting that the NLRB oversee a secret ballot vote by the downtown hotel’s employees to determine if they want to unionize their ranks.

Unite Here, a New York-based labor union, has been trying to unionize employees at the Hyatt Regency, the Westin Indianapolis and the Sheraton Hotel & Suites at Keystone Crossing for more than two years.

Hyatt officials say the union has been been especially aggressive in its organizing activities against Hyatt in recent months, even calling for a boycott of the hotel because it doesn't employ union workers.

Hyatt Indianapolis General Manager Brian Comes said the tactics are starting to cost his hotel business.

“Unite Here has been very aggressive in calling our clients and asking them to boycott our hotel,” Comes said. “Last month, we had a catered event cancelled, and the NFL Players Association decided not to stay here for the NFL Combine like they have in the past. That hurts not only the hotel, but our employees as well.”

The Hyatt filed the petition at the request of a number of its employees, Comes said, adding that he expects a decision from the NLRB within a week.

Hyatt officials at three California hotels in Santa Clara, Long Beach and San Francisco, filed similar petitions Thursday.

“I strongly believe all our employees should have the right to vote in private without the intimidation of someone knowing how they voted,” Comes said. “Hyatt has union and non-union hotels across the country, and we respect our employees’ right to choose.”

Unite Here spokeswoman Becky Smith said the petition is no more than a “publicity stunt.”

Unite Here officials prefer a “card check,” system, Smith said, where the union must obtain cards signed by a majority of the hotel’s employees to unionize the workers. Smith said that card-check process gives union officials face-to-face time with employees to explain the issues.

“There’s no such thing as a fair election when only one party has access to the employees,” Smith said. “Hyatt knows this, and a secret ballot is just another attempt to avoid a fair process.”

Smith also said Thursday’s petition is a diversionary tactic to take the focus off “the real issues.” Those issues, Smith said, include Hyatt housekeepers that make half as much as those in unionized hotels and are required to clean twice as many rooms on a daily basis.

Comes countered that his management staff fosters a familial atmosphere among Hyatt workers and pointed to the fact that a number of them have been with the company for more than 10 years.

Marion Gonzalez, a server at the Hyatt’s Eagle’s Nest restaurant, said she has no problem with a vote to unionize, but said the majority of her co-workers favor a secret ballot.

“We have 100 of 144 [hourly] workers who have signed a petition requesting a secret ballot,” Gonzalez said. “A secret ballot protects us from intimidation from either side, the union or hotel management. That’s the way our president is elected, and that’s the way this vote should be taken.”

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