Cathy Youngblood has been housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood, CA for the past 3 years. Cathy is currently touring the country as part of a campaign, Someone Like Me, calling on Hyatt to add a 13th member, a hotel worker, to its Board of Directors. To find out more about Cathy's candidacy and the Hyatt campaign, visit www.hyatthurts.org.
On Thursday May 23, we heard testimony at the one and only confirmation hearing for Penny Pritzker's nomination to Commerce Secretary. Sadly, the questioning by the Senate Commerce Committee was short on details on whether she has a track record of creating quality jobs. I was there with a number of my Hyatt coworkers and while it was heartening to see that half the room was filled with housekeepers, stewards and bellmen, instead of the usual lobbyists and Washington insiders, we were disappointed that one of the nominees for high office in this country responsible for job creation and responsible business development didn't get a full hearing on her qualifications and answer tough questions about what good American jobs should be.
Penny Pritzker is best known for serving on the Board of Directors of Hyatt Hotels, which her family founded. I am a housekeeper at the Hyatt. So while the Senate confirmation committee peppered Ms. Pritzker with questions about fisheries and bandwidth, let me tell you the real story at Hyatt, which did not get a proper hearing.
Hyatt is the worst hotel employer in America. Hyatt has led the hospitality industry in a race to the bottom by aggressively subcontracting good hotel jobs with minimum wage temps. In 2009, three Boston area Hyatts <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/us/25boston.html" target="_hplink">fired their entire housekeeping staff</a> without warning in one day. Some had dedicated more than 30 years of service to Hyatt. Hyatt replaced these women with subcontracted temporary workers making minimum wage. Some of these housekeepers reported that they unknowingly trained their replacements, being told the temps were only going to be used for vacations and sick days.
The Boston story is just one example of how Hyatt is destroying good jobs. In cities like Indianapolis, Hyatt refuses to hire permanent housekeepers, heavily relying on subcontracted housekeepers who get paid as little $2 to clean a room. In Baltimore, Hyatt received millions in tax dollars to build the hotel, promising to create good jobs in return. Today, only nine of the 30-40 housekeepers on staff work directly for the hotel. The rest are minimum wage temps.
In addition to Hyatt's record on jobs, it also imposes dangerous workloads on housekeepers, requiring them to clean up to 30 rooms in many cities. Rushing to clean rooms can cause serious injuries. Some of the women I work with live with debilitating pain. In California, I testified in favor of legislation that would give us the tools we need to do our jobs more safely -- tools like simple long-handled mops so we don't have to scrub hard-tiled bathroom floors on our hands and knees. Guess who led the opposition? That's right. Hyatt.
Some workers who have stood up to abuse at Hyatt have been fired. Take for instance Elvia Bahena. She spoke out at an Indianapolis City Council hearing about abuses subcontracted workers face. Two weeks later <a href="http://www.hyatthurts.org/2012/07/subcontracted-hyatt-worker-fired-after-testifying-about-subcontracting-abuses/" target="_hplink">she was fired</a>. She had an exemplary work record.
Aggressive outsourcing. Low wages. Work speed-ups. Injuries. Unjust firings. This is Hyatt's business model. This is the business model that Penny Pritzker, a steward of Hyatt, has not changed. But Hyatt's model is not the right model for America. If we have any hope for an economic recovery, Americans need stable careers, not minimum-wage temp jobs.
That’s why on June 10th, I will be headed to the Hyatt annual shareholders meeting, where I plan to speak to the Board of Directors about the need for Hyatt to go in a new direction—one where workers have a say (and a seat on the Board) and about how we can work together to make Hyatt the best hotel employer in America, not the worst.
For two months last year, I knocked on doors for President Obama in Reno, Nevada. I must have walked hundreds of miles and talked to hundreds of people. More than once I was chased off with a shotgun. I did all that because I believed in President Obama's message about an economy that works for all Americans. I've worked many jobs in life -- I've slung steel in an auto plant, I've been a cook, and now I am a housekeeper. I've worked hard, and all I have ever wanted is to be able to support myself and my family with some dignity. But the business model of Hyatt makes that nearly impossible.
So I challenge President Obama -- is the Hyatt way of doing business what you want for America? You rightly questioned Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital as being wrong for America. But Hyatt's record on jobs is equally disturbing. We need a Commerce Secretary who is committed to creating an economy based on stable jobs that support families, not one who has championed a model of auctioning off people's livelihood to the lowest bidder.
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