Perhaps the most significant news last Friday flew by unnoticed by most local media otherwise occupied with celebrity sightings.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, announced that the association would boycott the Hyatt until it addressed its local labor issues. Indy's City-County Council President Maggie Lewis joined Smith at a workers' protest to reiterate her long-standing boycott position. She said the hotel can expect "no love from the city-county president" and that she refuses to attend meetings at the facility until the protestors' concerns are addressed.
Unite Here has long been pressing for unionization of Hyatt staff. Recently they helped file suit on behalf of contract laborers of Hospitality Staffing Solutions, a contractor providing services such as housekeeping and restaurant stewarding to several hotels downtown.
Hyatt General Manager Brian Comes said during an interview in his office last Friday that the hotel petitioned the National Labor Relations Board last year for a secret ballot election so employees could determine if they wanted union representation. He also said the average wage of hotel employees is about $12 an hour and benefits include healthcare, education reimbursement and free meals at work.
Comes said when Hyatt terminated its relationship with HSS, affected workers were offered positions with other HSS hotels downtown or the option to transfer to its new temporary staffing supplier, United Services. In the past quarter, Hyatt hired over 30 new employees to its permanent workforce of around 225, Comes said. Not all these are new or full-time positions.
On the street, the word from current and former Hyatt employees was different. They said many "temporary staffers" actually work for Hyatt on a full-time, long-term basis. They also said they felt intimidated in their efforts to unionize and that low wages prevented heads of households from spending adequate family times because wages were too low to allow a regular full-time job to cover an average family's needs.
Former employee of the year, Karl Frederiksen, said he was fired in December for a nine-second video clip of him with his eyes closed during a quiet moment in the hotel. Otherwise his multi-year record, he says, was spotless. He believes it is company retaliation for his alliance with Unite Here. He's taking his case to court.
Protestors took a quick break from their chants to sing Smith a round of Happy Birthday.