A special message from the Franciscan Action Network
Continuing more than a century of Catholic Social Teaching, Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter, Caritas in veritate, among a number of things affirmed that the dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner. (#32) He highlighted the increased mobilization of peoples and affirmed that every migrant is a human person who possesses fundamental and inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance. (# 63) He wrote about the meaning of decent work and the right of workers to respect, and to a wage that allowed them to provide for their families to meet their needs, and to organize themselves freely. (#63) He indicated that Labor unions have always been encouraged and supported by the Church. (#64)
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in its Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching states: “the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” It states further that “every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.” And again the statement affirms “the basic rights of workers must be respected—the right to productive work, to fair and decent wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.” In Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the bishops of the United States and of Mexico strongly defend the rights and the dignity of immigrants.
This teaching is more profound than summarized in these few points. Catholic Social Teaching offers us a clear moral imperative on the rights and dignity of workers, and with a special care, for immigrant workers. Immigrant workers are strongly represented in a number of industry sectors in the U.S. economy. The Hotel, Food Service and Gaming sector of the economy is one of these. This is primarily a low wage sector as well.
Hyatt is one of the largest hotel companies in the world. It has made over $100 million in profit in the last year. As of the end of 2011, the company had over $1.1 billion in cash and short term investments. The Pritzker family which founded the company and still controls it have made billions over the last several years through the sale of Hyatt stock and other assets.
What Hyatt is doing to retain this competitive lead, and how it is treating its workers, particularly, women immigrant workers, a majority of whom are Catholic women, raises serious alarm. There is a clear systemic strategy at work to maximize profits at the expense of these workers, again, a majority of whom are immigrant Catholic women.
- In Boston Hyatt fired their entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels, laying off 98 housekeepers and replacing them with outsourced temporary workers earning minimum wage. The impact on these mostly immigrant families, their communities and parishes was devastating.
- A study of hotel workers’ injuries from 50 U.S. hotels was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Housekeepers working at Hyatt hotels had the highest injury rate of those studied. Hyatt has initiated a program called Hyatt Refresh. This program gives housekeepers a load of up to 30 rooms a day. This is twice the number in many other hotels. This is the modern version of the factory speed up.
- Hyatt Housekeepers have filed health and safety complaints with the U.S. government. In 2011, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA )or its state counterparts issued 18 citations against the Hyatt at 11 hotels and 3 citations against one of the Hyatt’s housekeeping subcontractors at one of those hotels. The citations alleged violations of various safety regulations that protect housekeepers and other employees and proposed over $100,000 in penalties.
- There is a crisis in Hyatt contract negotiations. In San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Honolulu workers have been unable negotiate a fair contract with Hyatt, even while workers at other companies have succeeded. In some cases workers have been without the protection of a contract for over 2 years.
- There is a struggle in non-union Hyatt hotels. In Indianapolis, San Antonio, Scottsdale, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Long Beach workers have called on Hyatt to accept a fair process to enable them to choose whether or not to join a union without employer intimidation. Hyatt has refused. Workers in non-union Hyatt facilities complain of disrespect from the management, low wages, unaffordable health insurance and high room quotas for room cleaners.
Hyatt Hotel workers across the U.S. have had enough. In some cities, the Hyatt workers have gone on strike. Others have risked their jobs by simply telling the truth about their working conditions. Hyatt workers across North America have endorsed the boycott of Hyatt Hotels. The boycott is being honored by more than 100 immigrant advocates and organizations. More than 700 women university professors are supporting the boycott. The boycott is supported by Interfaith Worker Justice, and by the Episcopal Church, and the Methodist Board for Church and Society. A national team of rabbis recently completed a rabbinical investigation of Hyatt’s practices and concluded that Hyatt was lo kasher–that is, not kosher–because of these practices. All are supporting the boycott.
A number of national Catholic organizations are supporting the boycott and moving their events out of Hyatt Hotels. Now is the time for every Catholic organization to join this boycott. Now is the time to support the Hyatt workers. Now is the time to stand up especially for immigrant Catholic women- our sisters in faith- who suffer disrespect, who face hard work for low pay, who risk serious injury all so that Hyatt can make more profits on the backs of the very workers who have made it the largest company in the field.
The Hyatt workers are asking the Catholic bishops through the USCCB to join other faith based leaders in using their prophetic voices to actively support the Hyatt workers in their struggle for dignity by issuing a strong unified statement of support. They ask that Catholic bishops, Religious Major Superiors and pastors show support for these mostly Catholic immigrant workers by not having any events sponsored by Catholic organizations at Hyatt properties. In this way can the words of Pope Benedict XVI serve the cause of justice?