Jackie White has been a housekeeper at Hyatt Indianapolis for almost 28 years. She has seen the business grow from its infancy to one of the most respected hotels downtown. But over the past 10 years, White said she has seen the quality of the hotel diminish, largely in part to multiple shifts in management. During that time, she said there have been few, if any, additional benefits for employees. She - along with many other Indianapolis hotel employees - determined enough was enough.
Despite the bitter cold weather Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 hotel staffers from across the Midwest protested with White in downtown Indianapolis. Workers from the Sheraton at Keystone Crossing, Westin Indianapolis, and the Hyatt Indianapolis - a recent addition to the fight - marched from Monument Circle, past the Hyatt and Westin hotels before gathering at the Capital Building for employee testimonials.
They were not alone in their efforts, as employees from Chicago's recently assembled UNITE HERE hotel union added three busloads' worth of protestors. Indiana State Rep. Ed Delaney and Indianapolis At-large city-county council member Joanne Sanders were also on hand to lend their support.
"It's cold out here, but when I see this it warms my heart," Sanders said to the crowd assembled in front of the Capital Building. "I'm proud to say if I'm accused of standing up for workers, then find me guilty."
AnneMarie Strassel, UNITE HERE representative, helped facilitate the demonstration. She said employees are seeking the opportunity to simply vote on unionizing their workforce. By doing so, she said they can collectively fight for fairer wages that have been afforded to many of their metropolitan counterparts.
"What the workers are actually asking for is just a fair process make a decision for themselves, stay neutral and make a commitment as they have across the country," Strassel said. "It means a lot have elected officials there to grow support and communicate a really clear message that we want these workers to be respected in an environment free from persecution or harassment."
White spoke to the crowd that congregated on the Capital Building steps, acknowledging the volume of employees to come stand beside her.
"I'm very proud to see so many people come and walk with us in this effort," White said. "I'm sure the company - employees anyways - would be proud to see this many people (protest) - for the people working there now and the people to come."
White said employees are not the only ones to suffer, however, with hotel guests also receiving diminished treatment due to hotel staffers' increased workloads. Four years ago, she said, the amount of rooms each housekeeper attended increased from 15 to 18, and in the last three years that number has magnified to 25 rooms per shift - or nearly an entire floor's worth of rooms per each housekeeper.
Due to the volume of work and increased amenities offered by the hotel, White said she feels guests are being "shorthanded" from the quality that typically accompanies Hyatt.
"I'm not complaining about the benefits we have, but 25 to 30 rooms are too much," White said. "I think the public needs to know how strenuous this work can be."
Ruthann Trobe, Starbucks employee at the Westin Indianapolis, was also a vocal supporter of unions. She said she experienced the benefits a union offers, having raised her kids from home while her husband served as member of the UAW for 45 years.
"I know what unions can do for us - the security it can provide," Trobe said. "I would like for other mothers and wives to have the same opportunity as me."
Trobe was among many employees who stressed this fight falls not only on the shoulders of Indianapolis hotel employees, but on the entire city to actively participate.
"It's about all of Indianapolis," Trobe said to the crowd assembled in front of the capital building. "We need our hotel people to stand up and be what we know they can be."
In 1999, Chicago hotel employees underwent a similar battle. After much scrutiny and hard work, they emerged victoriously to form a union and represent the will of hotel employees. In order for Indianapolis to do the same, employees from each respective hotel must adhere to the National Labor Relations Act (Article 9, Section E) that requires at least 30 percent of the workforce agree to unionize.
If given the chance to assemble and formally vote to unionize, White said she was confident the numbers would exceed the required amount to take that next step forward.
"All we're asking is for management to give us that chance."