A little over a week ago, a worldwide boycott of Hyatt hotel chains was announced in the US, organized by UNITE HERE, the union that represents Hyatt hotel workers.
Hyatt is guilty of labour abuses that are becoming more common in this age of austerity, including ever-increasing, oppressive workloads (cleaning thirty rooms in a shift, to start); limited time off; and of course, hiring contract workers to cut costs, to name a few. Additionally, there are experiences of on-the-job sexual harassment, racism, and union busting. For the largely female workforce that make up housekeeping staff—many of whom have immigrated to the United States—systemic racism and the threat of immigration keeps workers from coming forward against their employer.
To put it bluntly, Hyatt’s “escalating patterns of worker abuse” is illegal. Moreover, this is immoral. We all have the right to safe, equitable working conditions. And we all have the right to unionize.
Ten days into the boycott and demonstrations have been organized across the States, alongside a highly mobilized social media campaign to raise awareness about what’s at stake for Hyatt employees. In fact, UNITE HERE’s boycott is coalition building at its best. A diverse array of groups are now involved, including the National Organization for Women, National Black Justice Coalition, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Black Justice Leaders, Pride at Work, and the National Football League Players Association.
All too often, there is a failure to recognize the intersections that are at play here. Absolutely, identifying wage gaps and exploitative, unsafe working conditions women face is a start. Structural violence is endemic, but to simply state that the wage gap affects “women,” while true, has a tendency to erase lived experiences that don’t fit with normative whiteness or heteronormativity or assumptions surrounding ability. In short, women of colour, queer and trans folk, and (dis)abled individuals are disproportionately affected by labour abuses.
UNITE HERE’s Hyatt boycott, and any movement based on inclusive, intersectional principles, requires that we acknowledge our collective roles and privilege within white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy. This isn’t always comfortable, but it is necessary work if authentic solidarity is to take root.
A society’s labour standards can serve as a litmus test for accepted norms. Judging by the current state of labour in Canada and the US, especially for persons of colour, women, trans folk, queer persons, and First Nations, we, pardon the pun, have a lot of work to do. Collectively. Because these issues affect us all, regardless if Hyatt employs us or not.
It’s easy to forget about the seemingly invisible work behind the daily commodities we consume. We live in a time when workers are told they are dispensable and quantified, and work is reduced with classifications like “menial.” We don’t often observe the back-breaking labour and exploitative conditions involved in cleaning a hotel room. Nor are we made aware when we book our stay at a large hotel chain that cleaning a section of rooms requires physical stamina, organizational and communications skills, and ongoing cooperation.
Rendered invisible by mainstream media, it’s worth emphasizing that this structural violence, while systemic, is neither logical nor absolute. Our choices really do matter. We learn to operate as individuals from a young age, but it’s collective actions—like continually forging the links between workers’ rights and feminism—that form inclusive communities.
Sometimes the right thing to do is also the radical thing to do. Join UNITE HERE’s Hyatt boycott—wherever you are.
National Hyatt Boycott Unites Workers, Feminists, LGBQT Activists and More (Tiger Beatdown) s.e. smith