General Synod Supports Hotel Workers in Long Beach
When General Synod XXIX met in late June, 2013, in Long Beach, Calif., delegates and visitors did not stay in two large hotels near the Convention Center. Instead, General Synod honored worker-called boycotts of the Hyatt Regency Long Beach and the Long Beach Hilton and stayed in other, less convenient hotels. Here is a short history of how it happened.
Four years earlier, in the summer of 2009, then-Associate General Minister of the UCC Edith Guffey learned that conditions between workers and management at the Hilton Long Beach had become quite conflicted. This was disturbing news since the Hilton was one of our key General Synod XXIX hotels. Guffey sent a letter to the hotel and the union encouraging them to resolve their differences and reminding them that the General Synod strongly supports workers’ rights and has a history of cancelling contracts with hotels experiencing labor disputes.
At about this same time, because of pervasive abuses of workers at multiple hotels within the Hyatt chain, Hyatt employees called a global boycott of most Hyatt hotels. The boycott included the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, another of the General Synod’s key hotels. Read a report by clergy about the global boycott of Hyatt.
Time passed and the boycotts continued. By 2012, then-Associate General Minister W. Mark Clark feared the boycotts would not end before the General Synod met the following year. He decided to exercise a clause in our contracts with the hotels that allowed us to withdraw, without penalty, if it appeared a labor dispute would be occurring during the meeting of the General Synod. UCC Meeting Service staff then scrambled to find alternative hotels that, unfortunately, were often farther from the Convention Center than the Hyatt and Hilton. When the Synod met, no delegates or national staff stayed at either the Hilton or the Hyatt. Our call to support low-wage workers outweighed the unfortunate inconvenience of a bus ride from the more distant hotels. Read the UC News report, "General Synod honors hotel worker boycott in Long Beach."
(During the months immediately before GS met, the boycott of the Hyatt ended -- although a new labor agreement was not signed. But GS honored the new contracts signed with the alternative hotels and we did not use the Hyatt.)
While the General Synod was meeting in early July, 2013, we received word that the global Hyatt Hotel Corporation and the hotel workers' union UniteHere had reached an agreement that resolved their differences, provided better pay and benefits to workers, and strengthened workers' ability to form unions. Read the UC News story, With UCC support, Hyatt hotel workers and UNITE Here reach pact that ends boycott against hotel chain.
The UCC youth at General Synod also acted to support the hotel workers' struggle. During the youth's planned pre-Synod activities, they participated in a demonstration in front of the the Hilton Long Beach. The hotel workers' union UniteHere filmed their rally and added interviews with UCC Revs. Sarah Halverson and Bonnie Radden, and UCC Minister for Economic Justice Edith Rasell, to make a compelling video about the need to honor boycotts and support the workers' struggle. View the YouTube video.
History of General Synod Support for Hotel Workers. This is not the first time the General Synod has moved its venue to support workers involved in a labor dispute. Read about General Synod's support for hotel workers in Hartford, CT, during the UCC's 50th anniversary Synod in 2007.
General Synod Statements in Support of Workers’ Rights and Dignity
Global Boycott of Hyatt Hotels IS NOW ENDED
An agreement was reached between the Hyatt Hotel Corporation and UniteHere, the hotel workers union.
Learn about the boycott: why it was called, what happened, and how it was resolved.
In 2009, workers at Hyatt Hotels in the U.S. and around the world called on consumers to boycott Hyatt hotels, that is, to avoid doing any business with the Hyatt hotel chain. The boycott was called in an effort to push the Hyatt Hotel Corporation to negotiate a labor agreement with workers to improve their jobs. Hotel workers, especially housekeepers who clean the rooms, are pushed to work very hard, suffer from work-related injuries, are paid meager wages, and get little respect from their employers. Jesus supported the marginalized and the UCC seeks to do so as well by standing with oppressed workers and honoring their boycotts.
General Synod supported farm workers when we endorsed the boycotts of Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickles. The UCC Executive Council changed the convention center and hotels for the 26th General Synod in 2007 to avoid giving business to facilities that were involved in disputes with their workers. In 2013, General Synod honored the worker-called boycotts of the Hyatt Regency Long Beach and the Long Beach Hilton by cancelling the General Synod contracts and booking delegates to stay in other hotels (see above). People of faith are called to stand with and support the struggles of marginalized workers. More info about the boycott.
Read "Inconvenient Solidarity" by the UCC's Rev. Lillian Daniel in the November 1, 2012, issue of Christian Century. When the American Academy of Religion and Society for Biblical Literature held their national meetings in Chicago in Fall, 2012, how did these important religious oganizations respond to the hotel workers' struggle? (Scroll down to see the comments by the UCC's Associate General Minister W. Mark Clark.)
Hotel Workers need our Support
If you have recently stayed in a major hotel, you will know that the rooms have become extraordinarily luxurious. A down comforter, five or six down pillows, and an extra-soft mattress cover have become standard features. The rooms invite sweet dreams, but they are a nightmare for the housekeepers who clean them each day. The "amenities arms race" has dramatically increased their workload and their injury rate.
Since 2002 when the battle of the beds began, the incidence of arm, shoulder, and lower-back injuries has skyrocketed. But most housekeepers do not receive health insurance from their employer, and according to the New York Times, their annual pay averages only slightly more than $17,000. So what’s a hard working housekeeper to do? Many of them are finding the best way to gain a greater voice on the job, higher pay, and even health insurance is to join a union.
The Hyatt Hotel Corporation and some other hotel chains have signed agreements with UniteHere, the hotel workers' union, to ensure improved pay and benefits, dignity and respect on the job, and other benefits. But workers in many other major hotel chains continue to experience very harsh conditions. Workers continue to need our support.
Hotel Workers Rising Learn more about the Hotel Workers Rising campaign