This is good news for Hyatt family member Penny Prtizker, the new U.S. commerce secretary, as the family was dogged by the labor strife. It also shows that U.S. unions aren't dead, and that hotel employees have the right to do their jobs with dignity.
After a blistering four-year labor battle, Hyatt Hotels Corp. and workers union Unite Here reached a tentative settlement that will give employees pay and benefits increases for nearly a decade, going back to 2009 and reaching forward to mid-2018.
The warring parties hammered out a national agreement, announced Monday, for workers in Chicago, the company’s home base, as well as San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Altogether, about 5,000 workers would see pay and benefits packages rise an average of 4 percent a year, Hyatt said.
If workers ratify the terms in the next few weeks, it would close the door on an acrimonious feud in which the union criticized Hyatt’s track record as an employer and the hotel company accused the union leadership of holding its members hostage to its recruitment agenda.
The union led a global boycott and numerous protests, confronted Hyatt board members at their workplaces and reproached charities backed by Chicago’s Pritzker family, which founded the international hotel chain.
The spat also created some background tension around President Barack Obama’s nomination of Hyatt board member Penny Pritzker as commerce secretary, though it never rose to a level that affected the momentum behind her confirmation last month.
Pritzker resigned her seat on Hyatt’s board after her confirmation.
Both sides heralded the tentative agreement as the start of a new era in their stormy relationship.
D. Taylor, president of Unite Here, said he was optimistic the agreement would be ratified in all four cities.
“People are getting a substantial wage increase, a guaranteed pension and great health insurance, and that does not happen too often in America,” Taylor said. “I think they will feel good about it.”
The company has a major presence in Chicago, with the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, the Hyatt Regency Chicago on East Wacker Drive, the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and the Park Hyatt Chicago, among other properties. The contract settlement would cover 2,000 workers here.
“We play a big role in Chicago,” said Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources for the Americas. “We want Chicago to reflect well, and this is a great step in that direction.”
Chicago convention officials were heartened by the news.
“We want people treated fairly, and this agreement will do that,” said Jack Greenberg, chairman of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency that owns the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
Hospitality industry expert Ted Mandigo said the long-running fight represented a nuisance rather than a hindrance to efforts to revitalize the city’s convention and tourism industries.
“I don’t think it severely impacted Chicago’s convention market,” said Mandigo, who is based in Elmhurst, Illinois.
But Mandigo was doubtful that the labor/management rancor would be quick to dissipate.
“I don’t think this sets aside the history of the relationship,” he said.
Both sides were circumspect on what led to a breakthrough.
One sticky issue — ground rules for recruitment — was resolved. The union had pushed for the ability to recruit members in nonunion markets using the card check method, in which organizers gather signatures from workers.
Hyatt favored retaining secret ballot elections under the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board.
As a compromise, elections will continue to be held but will be overseen by a third-party arbitrator, Patrick said.
The agreement has two parts, one that covers the four-year period ending in August and one that covers the five years after that. Wage rates vary in different markets.
The local packages are competitive with what other hotel chains in each market have settled on, Patrick said.
At Chicago Hilton hotels, which reached agreement with Unite Here Local 1 this spring, housekeepers are paid $16.40 an hour and would see cumulative wage and benefit increases of $4.81 over the five-year contract that starts in September.
Tribune reporter Mugambi Mutegi contributed.
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Photo credit: Chicago teachers join protesting Hyatt workers outside the Hyatt Regency Chicago on April 9, 2011. Jean Paul Holmes / Flickr.com