Unions Claim Moral High Ground, Kick Off Sleazy Smear Campaign

UNITE-HERE, the nation’s largest hospitality union, has assembled a new coalition of pro-union organizations to target Hyatt hotels with the goal of organizing the chain’s entire workforce.

The union, with the support of the AFL-CIO and NFL Players Association, is threatening to tarnish Hyatt’s reputation, portraying it as unfair to workers. On July 23, the coalition announced the initiation of its three-pronged attack against the popular hotel consisting of a global boycott, social media campaign, and a week of protests at Hyatt hotels in 20 major U.S. cities.

UNITE-HERE seeks to portray its campaign as a humanitarian effort to combat abusive working conditions. On his union’s campaign website, HyattHurts.org, UNITE-HERE President John Wilhelm states, “Hyatt systematically abuses housekeepers and other hotel workers, and it is unacceptable.”In a press release, the union claims, “Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry.”

Yet a variety of independent sources have lauded Hyatt’s sterling employment record: in 2012 Hyatt Hotels Corporation won the Gallup “Great Workplace Award,” while the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization, recognized Hyatt Hotels & Resorts as one of its “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

Organized labor’s targeting of Hyatt is a classic example of a corporate campaign — an organizing strategy that uses legal, political, and public relations attacks to wear down the targeted employers’ resistance to unionization — to organize non-union employers. This involves recruiting allies, such as environmental, feminist, and human rights advocacy groups. These groups attack the company to maximize public sympathy for the union’s cause.

The purpose of a corporate campaign is to obscure the self-interested motive, of the union as it seeks to organize more members. In its current campaign, UNITE-HERE’s goal is to strong-arm Hyatt into signing a “neutrality agreement,” which allows workers to be organized through a method known as card check. Card check involves union organizers asking individual employees to sign union cards out in the open, thus exposing workers to intimidation and coercive tactics. So while the union claims that workers are being exploited and need stronger workplace protections, UNITE-HERE seeks to eliminate the privacy and protection of its members from coercion that secret-ballot elections provide.

The recent escalations in attacks are strictly to gain leverage with non-union Hyatt hotels after a recent unfavorable ruling by the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board against two UNITE-HERE locals. The Regional Board found merit in Hyatt’s charge that the unions negotiated in “bad faith” with multiple hotels in Chicago, after the union proposed illegal terms regarding strikes and work stoppages and refused to schedule bargaining sessions.

For nearly three years, not only did union management negotiate in bad faith, Chicago UNITE-HERE local union bosses raised union dues by 10 percent while refusing to accept wage and benefit increases that had been accepted by other Hyatt local unions, including a 12-percent wage increase and a 26-percent increase in health care, pension, and legal contributions.

In the end, UNITE-HERE’s operation runs contrary to its members’ interest. In Chicago, union bosses refuse to allow members to vote on wage and benefit increases, while charging higher union dues. At the national level, the union launches a global boycott against one its members’ largest employers, Hyatt, in order to gain more dues-paying members.

Union rank and file might well ask themselves about their leaders: With friends like these, who needs enemies?