Workers say Hyatt management is punishing them for talking to union

Police called to eject workers, clergy and two city council members.

hyatt mcdougle and clarke

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke led a group of Hyatt workers delivering workplace complaints to management, which eventually called police and had them escorted out.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Workers who clean the toilets, change the beds, bus the tables and haul the trash at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore marched into the hotel’s executive office suite yesterday to confront their bosses with a stern message:

Management, they charged, is harassing employees for talking to union organizers about pay, working conditions and the outsourcing of jobs at the Inner Harbor hotel. Workers who have formed a committee to talk about possibly unionizing are, they say, being written up and punished for minor infractions.

“May I give you this?” asked Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, attempting to hand over a copy of the unfair labor practices charge the workers have filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

No, send it by mail, said Aaron McDougle, rooms executive for the Hyatt Baltimore, rebuffing Clarke and the group of 25 people she joined for a surprise visit to the Hyatt.

Employees gather in the Light Street Pavilion before walking to the Hyatt.  (Photo by Fern Shen)

Employees gather in the Light Street Pavilion before walking to the Hyatt. (Photo by Fern Shen)

(Among them were Hyatt employees, faith leaders, students, City Councilman Bill Henry, local NAACP president Tessa Hill-Aston and members of the national hospitality industry union Unite Here.)

“Fine,” Clarke said coolly. “The NAACP and I, we’ll find Ms. Penny Pritzker and deliver it to her.”

It was one of several tense moments during the group’s encounter with management in a small Hyatt conference room, with hotel security director Andre Street at several points ordering participants and a reporter to stop taking pictures and videoing – or he would call police and have them arrested. (Two city police officers did ultimately show up.)

Clarke’s mention of Pritzker was a reference to the Chicago heiress and 2008 Obama supporter whose family owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (Pritzker is being sidelined by the president’s re-election campaign these days, The New York Times recently reported, possibly because of the Hyatt chain’s frequent clashes with another source of Obama’s support, labor unions.)

Long-running Labor Dispute Escalates

Yesterday’s action in Baltimore was part of a week of activities planned across the country by Unite Here, which is calling for a world-wide boycott of the Chicago-based hotel chain. Unite Here represents housekeepers, bell staff, restaurant workers and others.

“It is unacceptable in 2012 that women endure debilitating injuries as a result of the work they do cleaning rooms,” Unite Here president John Wilhelm said Monday.

Faith leaders escort Hilton workers to their surprise meeting with management. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Faith leaders escort Hyatt workers to their surprise meeting with management. (Photo by Fern Shen)

He was part of a Washington, D.C., news conference the group held that included leaders from the AFL-CIO, the National Organization of Women, the NFL Players Association, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and others.

Unite Here said it plans a week of demonstrations at Hyatt hotels in 20 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco and Boston.

The union is not, at this point, calling for a boycott of the Hyatt in Baltimore, but asking rather for the management to remain “neutral” and allow employees to talk to Unite Here about their options, said organizer Tracy Lingo.

Unite Here organizers Monday made mud stencils with the Hyatt logo on downtown streets. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Unite Here organizers Monday made mud stencils with the Hyatt logo on downtown streets. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“But the company has brought people in for questioning, posted security guards next to people having discussions” about working conditions and “written people up for minor infractions,” Lingo said.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. has responded to the union’s national campaign with a full-page ad in The Washington Post and press statements saying the company “maintains an outstanding safety record, provides industry-leading wage and benefits packages and is a recognized leader in promoting a diverse workforce.” They accuse Unite Here of launching the labor dispute as “an attempt to boost membership.”

Asked by a Brew reporter to comment on the Baltimore employees’ charges – including the harassment allegations in its NLRB complaint – the local Hyatt management responded over the phone that they would. So far, they have not called back.
In an emailed statement received today from Gail Smith-Howard, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, the company addressed the issue of temp workers:

“On an as needed basis, and like virtually all hotel management companies, Hyatt uses staffing companies to perform certain functions so we can respond effectively to fluctuations in business levels and operate efficiently,” the statement said. “In all cases, we take any decision to engage staffing companies very seriously.” Read the full statement here.

Increasing Use of Temps

Hyatt workers, however, many of them still wearing their employee name tags, were eager to tell their stories. They said the hotel has been steadily slashing the size of the full-time staff and replacing them with temp agency employees who are poorly-paid and do have not good benefits packages.

Workers are being asked to cover for each other and multi-task, making for stressful and dangerous working conditions, several said.

“You’ve got one person doing three people’s jobs,” said Michael Jones who, as a steward, washes dishes and dumps trash in the restaurant and the kitchen. He said in the ten years he has worked there, his department has gone from 32 full timers to just six or seven.

Hyatt employees, with union organizer Tracy Lingo, shortly before airing their complaints to management. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Hyatt employees, with union organizer Tracy Lingo, shortly before airing their complaints to management. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A.C. Castro described four recent injuries in the restaurant including his own tendonitis and the severe facial burns a cook received when someone put fry oil in a pot usually used to steam vegetables and the hot oil exploded.

“I’m one of the people in the [NLRB] complaint,” said Castro, a $6.55-per-hour restaurant room service worker who said he was “written up because I didn’t put my name on a money drop box.”

Castro, who has worked at the hotel for a little over a year, said that as temp hiring has risen at the Hyatt, the number of full-time employees has gone from 400 to 130, with the in-house housekeeping staff dropping from 50 to 9.

“It’s not healthy for us and it’s not healthy for the city for them to make one person do three jobs,” said Regena Davis, 22, an on-call banquet server who makes $4.50-per-hour plus tips. (She also works a full-time job as a dietary aide at Kennedy Kreiger.) “You see all the boarded-up houses on the street all the people out of work. Those could be job opportunities for people.”

Clarke: Hyatt Reneged on a Promise

Charlotte Knox, a $13.20-per-hour housekeeping staffer who has worked at the Hyatt since 1984, said she participated in the action to be an example to others: “don’t let them do you like they did me.”

The 62-year-old Knox, who is going to have hip replacement surgery soon, said paying $72 for health insurance every two weeks leaves her “lucky to take home $200 every two weeks.”

“I don’t have enough money to take care of myself.”

Charlotte Knox, a Hyatt housekeeping worker since 1984, said she watched working conditions there deteriorate, (Photo by Fern Shen)

Charlotte Knox, a Hyatt housekeeping worker since 1984, said she watched working conditions deteriorate. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Clarke told a story too. She recalled that the Hyatt, which opened in 1981, received a $10 million federal UDAG grant.

The local AFL-CIO chief at the time, Tom Bradley, “met with Hyatt officials and got an agreement that there would be no interference, there would be fair and just circumstances to allow elections whether to unionize or not,” Clarke recalled.

“He made that promise to his workers all across the metropolitan area. And we all supported that hotel,” she said. “And then the Hyatt did not maintain its neutrality. . . This organization, the Hyatt, reneged.”

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  • Flint

    The union is not, at this point, calling for a boycott of the Hilton in Baltimore”

    I think you mean “The union is not, at this point, calling for a boycott of the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore”

    Hilton is a different hotel.  UNITE HERE Local 7 actually has a contract with the inner harbor Hilton. 

    • baltimorebrew

      Thanks typos in the caption and this quote corrected – just got out of a meeting and corrected it. Thanks to the MANY pointing it out! fs

    • OLLIE

      Confused………and as such, this is my experience with Hyatt.  Please note, with Hyatt, I’ve  liked what I’ve seen!!

      Hyatt is employee-centric.  The company actively practices an Open-Door Policy.  Without question, the Baltimore Hyatt is extremely well managed and has been consistently voted as one of the best options for employment in Baltimore.  The hotel offers competitive wages and prides itself in fostering a caring, family-like culture.  Look it up.

      I’m having a hard time connecting with the argument that opposes Hyatt.  Hyatt employee’s concerns are the focus of the aforementioned article.  After reading the article twice, I’m still confused.  What we are the valid concerns, from an employee standpoint?  What’s not to like about Hyatt?    

      • Claudlaw

        I am frankly confused by this comment.  The fact that from the stand-point of a cutomer, the experience at Hyatt is a good one, has little to do with the concerns of its employees, and is likely a testament to the hard work of it’s employees. 

        When fewer staff are called upon to do more work, workplace injuries result (any OSHA/NIOSH study will prove that). When someone who is asked to pinch-hit in the kitchen without knowing what pot to put fry-oil , burns are inevitable.  Worklpace injuries should not be inevitable and workers shouldn’t be viewed as disposable casualties in avoidable workplace accidents.

        If workers are meant to feel initimated by security guards posted near them when they attempt discuss their conditions with each other, this is categorized harassment under the terms of the National Labor Realtions Act.   

        Ultimately it’s up to the Labor Board to determine the merit of the charges.  But the fact that a company touts “employee-centric” policies is meaningless if employees are actually unable to have meaningful conversations about their concerns without fear of losing their jobs.

  • Unellu

    Labor has been enervated and emasculated in this country.  Employees seem to have less and less rights or clout, regardless of union membership.  Job security is a creature of the past.  The strides  that the West made away from feudalism and serfdom, have been eroded in the last part of the twentieth century and in the beginning of the current century, the decline for labor has been rapid.  Globalization and Malthusian principles seem to be at work in creating more and more misery for labor in this country.  Those who hire want to eke out the last bit of profit from the downtrodden.  Sparrows Point is a study in how this is  coming to pass.  Meanwhile China wants to ease up on its one child policy.  It is postulated the Chinese won’t be competitive in the global market unless they breed more.  I am quite disgusted by coerced and cruel birth control, but China’s qualms about its mercantile future, astonishes me. 

    The Hyatt management called police to escort the workers out and if the workers who protested are fired, what is their protection?  Was Ms.Clarke escorted out too?  Disgusting!  I will never, I mean never, book a room in the Hyatt, ever.           

  • Tom Kiefaber

    Mary Pat Clarke, with notoriously disingenuous city council acolyte Bill Henry in tow, grandstands for The Brew by playing the race card and threatening the Hyatt Hotel folks. Please. The worker’s grievances expressed at the meeting seem valid and should be pursued. Media seeking Clarke and Councilman Henry, though, are injecting themselves into the fray for the political exposure. The usual, self serving, media savvy MPC tactics are being passed onto yet another career politician who’s full to the brim with typical Baltimore pol *O’Blarney* and populist hot air.

    Clarke is most in her element as Smalltimore’s now wizened council gnome, croaking her populist platitudes as our legislative body’s comic relief character. Mary Pat gleefully performs this dissonant, off-putting parody of her former Luck Charms persona, for our local corporate “presstitute* reps on a regular basis. It’s a disappointment, however, to note Fern Shen at The Brew falling for this tired old MPC soft-shoe routine.

    She’s a pro, who has admittedly managed to ride her deft “she cares about us” ruse to wide popularity, regardless of her dismal legislative record, and behind the scenes alignment with the present power structure. Inflicting Bill Henry on the electorate, was her doing as well, which offers a troubling glimpse behind the MPC facade, illuminating   Clarke as a skilled populist poser who in actuality, represents the the status quo of our notoriously corrupt city government.

    • No dog in this hunt

       Is there anyone better at being angry all the time  and issuing ad hominen attacks than Tom Kiefaber?   Three paragraphs of personal attacks without a single cogent comment on the issue of wages, work conditions, how it might effect competition with other hotels locally and nationally , etc.

      I recognize that this post has a similar quality, but am reminded of Bob Dylan’s line a long time ago “Hate nothing but hate.”  At a  certain point it just becomes a bit much.  Tom, it sure would be nice if you took your intellignece and tried substative discusssion in a rational manner of complex issues with a few positive proposal beyond getting rid of the bad evil guys  and let your personal vendetta take a small rest.  It is getting very tiresome.  Done.

  • Unellu

    Well Tom, Clark seems to have been escorted out by Hyatt management.  But don’t you think most politicians are playing her game?  With or without Mary Pat in tow, the workers are being screwed by management.  I don’t think Fern Shen fell for poseur Mary Pat.  She simply reported what happened.  Mary Pat is there in only one picture and her proclivity for populism, seems not to have garnered too much attention.  In the end the workers’ plight stinks and Mary Pat is powerless to change anything.  Hence Mary Pat’s bluff has been called.  But would you put Mary Pat in the same hole as the Hyatt management or would you say she’s a tad better?  Are they birds of a feather?          

  • JS

    My heart goes out to people who work in hotels–under the best of circumstances,  it’s a hard, low paying, largely thankless job. I grew up in a rural area where there were few summer jobs for college students, and I worked as a hotel maid for two summers. The manager of the hotel wouldn’t even let us run air conditioning while we were cleaning rooms, to save money. Some days were so hot, drops of my sweat would fall on the sheets as I was making the beds. I can’t imagine doing that job year round, and can’t begin to imagine how I would hold up physically doing it for decades. Whatever treatment the Hyatt Hotels are giving their employees, people like Ms. Knox deserve much better.

    To those who have enough money to pay for a hotel room: would you please consider tipping the maid?

    • buzoncrime

      I wonder: what percentage of guests whose rooms you cleaned/made up actually left tips? And, if they did, how much did they leave?

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    I am all for unionizing the hotel. But $13.20/hour x 80 hours is $1056 every two weeks. Subtract 7.5% for FICA and she’s at 976.80. Subtract 15% for federal income taxes and she’s at $830.28. Subtract another 4.75% for state taxes and she’s down to $790.84.  Subtract $72 for insurance, she’s at $718.84 every two weeks. (Because her effective income tax rate is probably close to zero, she will probably get all of the income tax refunded to her at the end of each year.) $718.84 in take-home cash every two weeks is not very much money and would be very difficult to live on, but it’s more than $200.  Unless she only works part-time, in which case, the fact that she has relatively affordable health insurance ($1872/year) as a part-timer is actually a GOOD thing.

    • Useyourbrain536

      Your very good at math, but I am a firm believer that if you don’t like your job get a different one, as your wages are normally discussed before you except a job.

      • Yando1946

         Sure, there are so many great jobs out there right now that fit the skill levels of the average  62 year old hotel worker. 

        • Power Within

          Last time I remembered, everyone has the right to make a choice. Making a decision to take a position with in a company, you should already know what that job is offering in the way pay, physical demands, politics, benefits…etc. If you know going in it’s not what you want to do for the rest of your life , then have a plan to better yourself within the company or with another career.

          Like many of you, I started out in this business just to have a job in my teen’s at a starting wage of $1.75 hr. And the demands back then were 10 times harsher than what they are today. Did I complain…in my mind I did …but I took action to increase my value of what I had to offer. You see…I had a choice to either continue on the path of what was offered to me or increase my value. If you have the mind set of always ”taking” you will live the life style of lack. But by increasing your ”Value” you are now giving more and subsequently you will be given more.

          Fast forward, to date with only a high school education, I have opened a dozen corporate stores at executive level and owned 5 restaurants for 20 + years and still have 15 years before retirement age.

          ”Holding on to anger is like picking up a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone. the only person that’s getting burned is you”

      • Barnadine_the_Pirate

        And I’m a firm believer in everyone getting a job with an investment bank so you can earn a six-figure salary playing roulette with other people’s money. However, the fact remains that someone has to clean hotel rooms, and since that someone will be a human being, that someone should be paid a wage that allows him/her to live.

  • Unellu

    JS I loved your comment–personal and poignant.  Thank you.

  • Proud Pinko

    The whole point is that, among other heinous acts, the hotel is cutting hours of regular employees and bringing in temps to pump up their bottom line. Charlotte Knox has probably seen her hours shrink and shrink over the course of her employment at Hyatt. This is just another example of a big corporation suckling off the government subsidized teat while workers suffer. Shame on Hyatt!

    • Nashorn

      Speaking of subsidized …

      When Ms. Pritzker is talking to Mrs. Clarke, who will she think she’s talking to, a member of the Baltimore City Council, or a competitor in the form of the city-owned Hilton.

      Talk about reneging Mrs. Clark.

  • AH

    I’m repeatedly astonished by Tom Kiefaber’s boundless capacity to divine the motives of all manor of people. I’m especially struck by his propensity for dressing down those in public service.  I’m all for accountability, but really — this from a man whose life’s work filled the coffers of the movie industry? Hey Mr, K — how about occupying Hollywood? I hear they have a little issue with pay disparity. 

    Meanwhile, I don’t suppose the good workers at the Hyatt were sorry to see Ms. Clarke and Mr. Henry lend visible support to their cause. They were there. They spoke up. Ms. Shen covered it. How again is that so bad?

    And yes, JS — from now on, I will always tip the maids.

  • Union my toosh

    Check out Sparows Point you goofs! What did the union do for them? Nothing.
    Unions are a thing of the past.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    Yando, Oops. It seems that I may have legitimately criticized someone who’s posing has you snowed? Clarke or (cue the spooky music..) “Bullcrap Bill” Henry?Although you’ve anonymously bestowed a dubious distinction on me in your post, it’s a distinction none the less. Everyone hopes to be the best at something, and it’s heartening to know that in your world, I have arrived in that regard. Please note that I have been struggling with many of these very same pols, blowhards, liars, criminals and fools who’ve mismanaged our city for over 30 years, daily…  Many of the most egregious poseurs are still inhabiting the same fetid rodent burrows they’ve been ensconced in since 1982. That alone highlights the notorious and crippling  political dysfunction our otherwise extraordinary city suffers from.Our local media, including The Brew, have done little or no investigative reporting on the subject of The Senator Theatre saga, which has recently degenerated into a bona fide fiasco. That’s the primary subject of my cumulative ire. You’ve unfortunately been deprived of knowing the counterpart factual truths that oppose an ongoing slew of purposeful city government lies to the citizenry.After all, a lie can circle the earth before truth gets its boots on. This time there’s no stopping the truth that’s currently emerging around the ostrich approach of our local media, and I look forward to when you and others will better understand, in retrospect, what my annoying public pronouncements were all about. 

    • Barnadine_the_Pirate

      I used to love going to the Senator Theater. But the guy who ran it borrowed all of this money for capital improvements, then spent all the borrowed money to cover operating expenses, and then he couldn’t make the loan payments and the whole enterprise went bankrupt. Somehow that is the fault of a bunch of politicians . . .

  • AH

    Interesting. It seems the Hyatt management has a history on this front. A little digging brings up info about an uproar they caused a few years ago in Boston, in which they fired about 100 housekeepers without notice, replacing them with temp employees. Some of the fired workers were 20-year employees. Seems they had the staff train the newbies, telling them that the temps were going to be used as subs for sick leave etc. Many of the once-permanent staff were earning a living wage, $14/hr or so. The temps who replaced them? $8/hr. Led to boycotts and all manner of backlash.

    Money talks, decency walks.

    (Google the “The Boston 100 Hyatt,” or just check Wikipedia.)

  • Tom Kiefaber


    It seems that Fern’s criteria for what gets posted and what doesn’t has become as biased and arbitrary as her publication. Why anonymous, totally made up falsehoods, posted to discredit and lay blame for The Senator’s present degraded, closed and endangered state are allowed to be spewed and promptly posted, is a mystery.

    Perhaps if the local media actually got up off their (widening) butts and genuinely inquired into the crimes and city government scandals that really went on surrounding The Senator and its ongoing fiasco of a situation, this kind of unfounded, slanderous assessment would be neutralized with the facts, and not attacking conjecture.

    Alas, that’s not occurred, so this anonymous nasty troll can spew false information online  at will. For the record, virtually   e v e r y t h i n g   you posted is false, Hon, and can be proven as such, Yet there’s never been a forum to do so. I.E. I have never filed bankruptcy, nor has any company I was involved with ever filed.  

    You must have been thinking of the Sunpaper.   

    • Balt Observer

      In reading these comments, I am left to wonder what it will take to compel this man to seek the professional help he so clearly needs. In this day and age of random and senseless tragedy, these types of delusional public missives, filled with this level of paranoia and rage, simply cannot be ignored.

  • SNC

    I can say as a former employee, a member of management, the Hyatt here in Baltimore and the Executive Management Staff, does tend to be more concerned with regards to its public image and less with its employees needs. I was terminated because of a medical ailment the was chronic and acute, I needed time to heal and was not allowed to have that time while long term employees such the Banquet Sous Chef at that time were allowed to belittle me and my condition, which only caused it to worsen, along with the support of the Human Resourse Department . . . so repeated complaints against this 30 plus year member of management, who by all accounts was a mediocre manager, were ignored. I as a member of management, I was instructed by my supervisor, a member of the Executive Staff, to schedule “troublesome” employees fewer hours rather than terminate them, in the hopes that these employees would quit their employment and unemployment would then not be an option for those employees.

    The Executive Management of this hotel does not foster “team work” and the management of this hotel only fosters “back stabbing” – the general manager was always on a power trip, believing she could compel a staff member, or a member of management, to do as she instructed, as in to take a different position or be terminated.

    Most of the positive accounts on this comment line are actually those supplied by the hotel itself, they had people that would look for negative publicity and have staff write several positive comments to refute the one negative one. If you will note, there is no published contact information for those “positive” comments. While mine, even though they will account my account as being an upset former employee does, that is because I have nothing to hide and can only speak the truth now, when I could not while I was employed.

    • Chef

       Really Sears!!!!!

    • Hospitality_sucks

      Exactly! This is what they do in my workplace right now. I am still employed and eager to get the hell out.
      When the management thinks that a particular guest is going to give a negative feedback, they don’t send him a feedback email, just to get their scores up. This is sick.

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