Hundreds of demonstrators descended upon the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Indianapolis Thursday afternoon, in protest of low wages and unfair treatment — an event that culminated in the peaceable arrests of at least 40 people.
The protest was part of a coordinated effort in 17 North American cities to draw attention to the labor concerns of Hyatt employees nationwide.
Organizers for Unite Here, a local hotel workers union, said Hyatt had slashed jobs, cut workers' hours and cut corners at its hotels across the country, "lock(ing) workers into recession even as the the economy rebounds." Indianapolis taxpayers, the group claimed, have invested $1 billion in the hospitatlity industry, while lcoal hotel workers are "among the lowest paid hotel workers of any major city in the United States."
Jessie Ham, a cocktail server at the downtown Hyatt for over two years noted that, although Hyatt has used the recession as an excuse for cutbacks, the company's owners are doing fine.
"The reality of the company is that the owners do very, very well for themselves," Ham said. As recently as last November, Hyatt's owners, the Pritzker family, took the company public, netting the corporation over a $1 billion.
"To say they don't have the money, it kind of makes you wonder where it's all going," she said. "They're basically trying to use the recession as an excuse to keep us all in a recession."
Ham also claimed the hotel had used "intimidation, harassment and surveillance" tactics to prevent workers from organizing. "They've strong-armed people not to stand up for themselves," she said.
Jackie White, a housekeeping employee who has worked at the downtown Hyatt for 29 years, said that the quality of service at the Hyatt had "changed drastically."
She pointed specifically to lack of cleanliness in the hallways, reduced services, rising safety concerns, and increased workloads on housekeepers, whose workloads had nearly doubled in recent years.
"We definitely want to be ready for the Superbowl" in 2012, she said. "We want the best for everyone who wants to come stay in the Hyatt and in any hotel downtown."
Demonstrators faced soaring temperatures and withering humidity for several hours, waving signs, handing out fliers and shouting slogans like "Hyatt, Hyatt, enough is enough!" and "Yes, we can!"
But the climax arrived when roughly 40 demonstrators marched to the sidewalk in front of the Hyatt, linked arms and sat down, effectively blocking sidewalk traffic in a coordinated act of civil disobedience. Police, who were intimately familiar with the details of the protest ahead of time, waited in the wings.
After about 20 minutes, police issued a verbal warning. The seated protesters were then individually asked to leave, then led away one-by-one, placed in handcuffs, and shut in the back of a police van.
Overall, the scene was spirited, and emotions intense. But the arrests were anticipated, organized and peaceful.
Lieut. Jeff Duhamell, a police spokesman on the scene, said that locals from the nine counties of the Greater Indianapolis Area would not be officially arraigned or incarcerated, but would be given summons to appear in court.
Those who resisted, were arrested without proper identification, or who lived outside the area would most likely be incarcerated for at least several hours, he said. The 40 or more arrested would face Class B misdemeanor charges, Duhammel said, which could result in fines. Demonstrators had been informed of the conditions ahead of time.