CHICAGO - If what is happening here and in California are any indication, the Hyatt hotel chain seems determined to continue an attack on housekeepers that it began more than a year ago when it fired veteran employees in Boston and replaced them with lower paid temporary workers.
Two Santa Clara, Calif. housekeepers have added a new dimension to the variety of charges filed against the chain by workers all over the country.
They have filed formal charges of sexual harassment with the federal government.
Martha and Leona Reyes, who had worked for the Hyatt in Santa Clara for 30 years, combined, came to work earlier this year and found sexually suggestive images of themselves, clad in bikinis, in a digitally altered photomontage. The lewd photos were plastered on bulletin boars during "Housekeeper Appreciation Week."
The Reyes sisters took down the images, refused to turn them over to Hyatt managers - and were fired.
Hundreds rallied on Nov. 18 to demand that they be rehired. It was that same day when the charges against the Hyatt Santa Clara were filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"I came to work and saw men laughing at the pictures, and I was so embarrassed to see my face pasted on a bikini body," Martha Reyes told both her attorney and Unite Here, the union to which she and her fellow workers belong. "For me, this is no joke. I take my job very seriously, and all I ask is to be treated with respect. Instead, Hyatt fired me, and now I may lose my home."
In this city, where Hyatt has its national headquarters, thousands rallied in the Loop Dec. 15 to demand that the hotel stop pressuring the union for contractual givebacks. Hyatt has announced that in Chicago it will cut off health insurance for workers at the end of February.
Bargaining has been going on in this city for over two years, with Hyatt essentially refusing to move off its demand for unlimited subcontracting and for keeping present working conditions at its hotels in downtown, near O'Hare Airport and across from McCormick Place. Those facilities employ 4,500 workers.
"If they take our health insurance away, my kids will suffer," Jacqueline Smith, a 10- year housekeeper at the Hyatt McCormick said. "Three of my five kids have special needs and I have heart and blood pressure problems. If I don't get my medication or they take away my breathing machine, then I can't support my family."
Photo: Aug 21, 2010, Chicago Hyatt housekeeping workers and supporters rally. (Scott Marshall/PW)