In the months before he was fired last March, Hyatt Regency Baltimore concierge Jeremy Pollard was “agitating” his co-workers “pretty much constantly,” the 38-year-old Pollard told a National Labor Relations Board judge yesterday.
He didn’t mention to his fellow workers that he was quietly meeting once a week with a representative from the Unite Here! Local 7 hospitality workers union. But Pollard testified that, guided by the union, he was sharing his grievances about management in the employee cafeteria and locker room at “every opportunity.”
A major beef for the $14.71-per-hour concierge was that he’d been asked on multiple occasions to work as a $7.25-per-hour bellman. Problem was, he said, there was often no concierge on duty at those times so he was asked to cover both jobs – at the lower hourly pay rate.
“I didn’t think it was fair,” Pollard said, recounting how he had refused to perform concierge duties while receiving bellman’s wages.
When an impatient guest complained about not getting concierge help from him, the incident led to him being fired, he said.
He’d been been the hotel’s concierge for 13 years and 11 months.
“Airing Our Dirty Laundry”
Pollard’s testimony came on the third day of a hearing on an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the employees, working with Unite Here Local 7.
They allege that four hotel employees, including Pollard, were fired because of their union activities, and that other workers involved in union discussions were harassed or harshly disciplined.
In November, the NLRB issued a complaint against Hyatt on behalf of the workers, who want back pay, reinstatement to their jobs and other remedies.
The Baltimore Hyatt’s general manager Gail Smith-Howard has previously told The Brew, through a spokeswoman, that the employees were not targeted because of union matters and were disciplined appropriately.
Yesterday she sent a statement accusing Unite Here of attempting to organize employees in Baltimore and elsewhere “though a non-democratic and often intimidating process.” It noted that the Hyatt “was ranked #2 in the mid-size business category in the Baltimore Sun’s Top Places to Work 2011 survey.”
Yesterday, NLRB attorney Sean R. Marshall sought to show that Pollard’s union activities were known by management, including one supervisor with whom Pollard says he discussed Unite Here. (“His locker was next to mine.”)
Pollard said he talked to some 80 people about working conditions at the hotel, telling many the tale of his request for two-month leave, at first denied. After Pollard called corporate headquarters in Chicago, the decision was reversed.
“I said ‘I got this fighting alone. Imagine what we could be getting if we were fighting together,’” he recalled.
Pollard also recalled what happened when he called around to other Hyatts and found they did not permit bellmen to perform concierge duties.
A supervisor, he said, “got visibly upset and said that I should not have called those other hotels, that I was airing our dirty laundry.”
Testimony in the case is expected to continue through the week.
“Cutting Costs, Squeezing Us”
Pollard, who has moved on to other employment, said he was “proud to have helped my co-workers stand together and see it’s possible to have good jobs in Baltimore.”
In a conversation with The Brew outside the hearing room, he said his experience was reflective of the hotel’s general trend of, increasingly, bringing in low-paid temp workers to replace full-time employees.
“It was people getting paid $7.25 or $8 an hour with no job security, no benefits, no vacation time or sick days. [Housekeepers] were doing up to 30 rooms a day at one point,” he said. “They were cutting costs, squeezing us.”
“I saw the writing on the wall,” he said. “I felt a real personal urgency about organizing. There wasn’t going to be anybody left.”
(Hyatt management, in previous statements to The Brew, has denied the charges of excessive use of temp workers.)
His own financial situation worsened as his paychecks began to shrink, Pollard said, explaining that he had to move back in with his parents when he couldn’t pay his bills.
“That was tough,” he said. (He said he insists on paying rent to his parents.)
One of six siblings raised in a Canton row house, Pollard is a lifelong Baltimore resident who regards himself as part of a forgotten demographic.
“I feel like what I’m doing is going to help make a difference for my city. Not for the $100,000-a-year people they want to bring in, but for the people who have always lived here,” he said.
“It gets me how these politicians, it’s always ‘We want to bring in people with money.’ It’s never ‘We want to help the people who have always been here.’”