Analysis Human Rights

Aiming High: Hyatt Housekeepers Seek to Join Hotel’s Corporate Board

Sheila Bapat

Housekeeping—a job predominantly held by women—can cause a good deal of physical pain due the repetitive nature of the work. To help improve conditions for housekeepers and all workers, organizers seek to reform Hyatt's corporate board.

While Michigan workers gained attention by protesting their state legislature’s right-to-work law this week, in Illinois, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts housekeepers are aiming for a largely untested (at least in the United States) strategy for influencing their employer’s decisionmaking: the Hyatt workers are trying to persuade Hyatt’s board of directors to add one of their employee housekeepers to its corporate board.

On Tuesday in Chicago, 200 Hyatt housekeepers and other workers demonstrated outside Hyatt headquarters as part of their “Hyatt Hurts” campaign and presented a resolution to Hyatt leadership requesting worker representation on Hyatt’s board.

As members of UNITE HERE, a union representing workers from the fast food, hotel, gaming, textile, and several other industries, the Hyatt workers have alleged that Hyatt holds them responsible for unreasonable amounts of work, including cleaning up to thirty rooms per day. In alignment with these claims, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Hyatt an ergonomic risk warning on April 25, 2012. In its warning letter, OSHA pointed out that Hyatt requires of its housekeepers “repeated heavy lifting, bending, twisting, elevated and extended reaches, and forceful gripping.”

To help address these issues, the protesters seek to pressure Hyatt into reforming its board by including a worker. They presented the idea to Farley Kern, Hyatt’s Vice President of Communications, on Tuesday, and are waiting for feedback about their proposal. Ms. Kern told Rewire Thursday morning that she did deliver the communication that was given to her on Tuesday to Hyatt’s Corporate Secretary, but that the workers’ resolution did not follow the process outlined in Hyatt’s bylaws, found here.

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How much traction will this request to the Hyatt Board of Directors realistically receive? Unsurprisingly, board seats on major corporations like Hyatt’s are typically held by key shareholders with extensive corporate pedigree. Hyatt’s current board consists of corporate leaders including business leader and philanthropist Penny Pritzker (Pritzker also served as the National Finance Chair of President Obama’s 2008 campaign), as well as Goldman Sachs partner Richard A. Friedman.

The practice of workers joining a company’s board or engaging in other power-sharing models, also known as co-determination, has been found in the European Union, Germany, and the United Kingdom, but is largely untested in the United States. Some scholars who have examined co-determination practices have found the effectiveness of employees serving on corporate boards in actually influencing corporate practices hinges on how dense the labor movement in a given country is to start.

King’s College lecturer Gregory Jackson points out that in Germany for example, where co-determination practices tend to be very strong, labor is found to be a stronger presence in the country overall. In addition, countries with a shareholder-oriented corporate governance like the United States and the United Kingdom, board-level employee representation has been weak.

Despite the uphill battle, the Hyatt Hurts campaign has elected to pursue this strategy and hopes to make it stick. Cathy Youngblood is a lead organizer speaking with Hyatt management to add a worker to the Hyatt board, and she has worked as a housekeeper much of her career. She traveled from Los Angeles to Chicago on Tuesday to present the resolution to Hyatt management, but she had no success actually connecting with the management team and instead spoke only with Ms. Kern—outside of the lobby of Hyatt headquarters.

“Hyatt said door is always open, but I couldn’t even get through the front door when I went to present this resolution,” Youngblood told me on Thursday. “They say I’m a valuable employee, so let me what through the door and let me sit down and talk to you.”

Housekeeping—a job predominantly held by women—can cause a good deal of physical pain due the repetitive nature of the work and the volume of rooms housekeepers are expected to clean per day, as Hyatt housekeepers have attested.

“Every day, you get bruises. Every day, your muscles are sore. It’s so physically overwhelmingly that when you go home, you can’t do anything except take a shower and go to bed,” Youngblood said. “You have to go so fast to make your room count. All with a smile on your face. And if I’m giving my all to Hyatt, why aren’t they listening closely to how to improve the working conditions?”

Hyatt housekeepers also feel they are being short-changed by the corporation as it seeks to hire more part-time workers.

Annemarie Strassel, Communications Coordinator of UNITE HERE, spoke to Rewire via phone on Tuesday night from the Chicago protest about why Youngblood can improve workers’ representation through serving on Hyatt’s board. “Cathy Youngblood is a housekeeper and she’s been on front lines of fight for long time fighting for health and safety of her and her colleagues’ jobs,” Strassel told me. “She has lobbied for legislation and OSHA regs to make it safer. She is an example of someone who can add insight and wisdom and experience to Hyatt’s board.”

News Economic Justice

Colorado Voters Could Get a Chance to Boost the State’s Minimum Wage

Jason Salzman

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees "far above" the required minimum wage in their location.

Colorado’s minimum wage would increase from $8.31 to $12 by 2020 if Colorado voters approve a ballot initiative that could be headed to the November ballot.

Patty Kupfer, campaign manager for Colorado Families for a Fair Wage told reporters Monday that Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, a coalition of groups, submitted more than 200,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state, more than double the number required to make the ballot.

Hundreds of volunteers and dozens of organizations collected signatures, Kupfer said.

“Raising the minimum wage is fair and it’s smart,” Kupfer said. “It’s fair because people working full time should earn enough to support their families. It’s smart because when working people have more money in their pockets, they spend it here in Colorado, boosting our economy and helping our community thrive.”

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Speaking at the news conference staged in front of stacked boxes of petitions, Marrisa Guerrero, identified as a certified nursing assistant, said she works seven days a week and still relies on subsidized housing.

“Making $300 a week is not enough to pay rent and buy groceries for a family like mine,” said Guerrero, adding that she’d “really like” to see an increase in the minimum immediately, but “2020 would work wonders.”

After 2020, the state’s minimum wage would be adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases under the initiative.

Tyler Sandberg, a spokesperson for Keep Colorado Working, an organization opposing the initiative, appeared at the news conference and told reporters that he was “especially” worried about the initiative’s impact on small businesses.

“The big corporations, the wealthy areas of Denver and Boulder, might be able to afford [it], but small businesses, rural and poor communities, cannot afford this,” Sandberg told reporters. “So you are going to put people out of work with this. You’re going to harm the same people you’re trying to help.”

“It’s one size that doesn’t fit all. It’s the same for a small business as it is for Pepsi Cola,” said Sandberg, whose organization includes the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Association of Independent Business.

Asked by Rewire to respond to Sandberg’s argument against a higher wage, Kupfer said, “Research shows small businesses support increasing the minimum wage. The truth is, when workers make more, that means more customers in local Colorado businesses. Both in rural and urban parts of the state, when working people do well, our communities thrive.”

A campaign fact sheet cited an April survey showing that 59 percent of the 2,400 U.S. small businesses polled favor raising the minimum wage, and that about 40 percent of those polled already pay entry-level employees “far above” the required minimum wage in their location.

“In my company, we have customer service representatives being paid $15 per hour,” Yoav Lurie, founder of Simple Energy, told reporters at the news conference. “While others might choose to pay customer service reps minimum wage, we have found that higher pay leads to improved performance and better retention and better customer satisfaction.”

Workers who rely on tips would see their minimum hourly wage increase by about 70 percent, from $5.29 to $8.98, while other workers would get a 44 percent increase by 2020. The initiative states that “no more than $3.02 in tip income may be used to offset the minimum wage of employees who regularly receive tips.”

Colorado passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that bumped the minimum wage to $6.85. It’s been raised according to inflation since then.  The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and has not been increased since 2009.

Colorado’s Republican legislators killed legislation this year to allow cities to raise the minimum wage.

News Law and Policy

McDonald’s Employees Allege Unsafe Working Conditions in At Least 19 Cities

Jessica Mason Pieklo

McDonald's officials dismissed the employees' claims, which include stories about workers sustaining burns on the job, as a public relations strategy orchestrated by activists hoping to damage the corporation's brand.

A new front in the war for workers’ rights opened up Monday as McDonald’s employees and the Fight for $15 campaign filed 28 health and safety complaints in 19 cities with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state agencies alleging unsafe working conditions and inadequate training.

The complaints include claims from one McDonald’s worker in New Orleans who was burned while filtering grease and another from a worker in Philadelphia who was also badly burned while reaching for a cookie tray.

McDonald’s officials dismissed the claims as a public relations strategy orchestrated by activists hoping to damage the corporation’s brand.

The workers allege that understaffing and pressure to work faster, along with a lack of protective gear and sufficient training, led to their injuries. “One of my co-workers and I have to empty the grease trap without protective gear,” Martisse Campbell, a worker at a McDonald’s in Philadelphia, said in a statement.

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The complaints allege many McDonald’s franchises lack an accessible and properly stocked first aid kit. One coworker was badly burned on the job and was allegedly told by a manager to “put mayonnaise on it, you’ll be good,” Campbell said.

OSHA complaints were also filed against McDonald’s locations in Kansas City, New York, New Orleans, and elsewhere.

“In our first meeting, there were 50 workers in a room in New York City who held up their arms covered in burns and said, ‘This is what it means to be a fast-food worker,’” Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fight for $15, said in a statement following the filing of the complaints. “As this campaign has spread to cities across the country, it’s become painfully clear that unsafe conditions go hand-in-hand with the industry’s low wages.”

McDonald’s, in a statement following the OSHA complaints, said its franchisees “are committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s brand U.S. restaurants.”

“It is important to note that these complaints are part of a larger strategy orchestrated by activists targeting our brand and designed to generate media coverage,” the statement concluded.

Seventy-nine percent of fast-food workers have been burned on the job in the last year, according to a recent survey of fast-food workers released by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker safety advocacy group.

The Department of Labor (DoL) also issued a report this month highlighting the link between workplace injuries for low-income workers and an increased difficulty for those workers to climb out of poverty.

“Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20 percent) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses through workers’ compensation,” the DoL report states.

By comparison, low-wage workers and their families carry about 50 percent of those costs in the form of out-of-pocket medical and related expenses. The rest is spread between federal, state, and local governments, as well as private insurers.

The Fight for $15 organization has filed hundreds of claims against McDonald’s with the National Labor Relations Board, which resulted in a decision last year from the NLRB that McDonald’s was a joint-employer with its franchisees. The decision, the first of its kind, is the first step in holding McDonald’s corporate liable for the unlawful actions of its franchise owners.

McDonald’s also faces claims of wage theft against its employees as well as claims that workers at franchises in Virginia were subjected to “rampant” racial and sex discrimination.

McDonald’s sets minimal health and safety standards for all its franchisees, but has consistently failed to enforce them, according to the OSHA complaints. The complaints also note that employees suffer similar injuries and complain of similar unsafe working conditions in both McDonald’s that are corporate-owned and those that are owned by franchisees.

“It’s a problem that only McDonald’s can fix,” Fells said.


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