Indianapolis hotel workers rally

November 2, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.--Approximately 150 workers, union activists and students rallied October 28 in front of the Indiana statehouse to stand in solidarity with workers at several Indianapolis hotels. The workers at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Westin Indianapolis and Sheraton Indianapolis City Center have been publicly campaigning for almost a year to unionize hotel workers.

Linda McCrae, the senior minister at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis, opened the rally by leading a blessing of the Hope Quilt, a quilt that has grown as hotel workers in every city it passes through add their stories to it.

Several local workers then shared their testimonials, as well as two housekeepers from the "Boston Hyatt 100"--the nearly 100 employees who were recently replaced by minimum-wage contract labor in three Boston Hyatt hotels. They were followed by several state and city politicians, and a member of the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) faculty.

At the close of the rally, the demonstrators marched with the Hope Quilt, which is now more than 130 feet long, from the front steps of the statehouse around the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, and back to the statehouse, shouting the union motto: "¡Sí, se puede! Yes we can!"

In addition to the rally and the march, workers at the Indianapolis Hyatt and other hotels undertook a "Button Action" that day, where workers who supported unionization wore a button indicating this on their work uniforms. Both the Hyatt Housekeepers' "Hope for Housekeepers" campaign and the UNITE HERE! Hotel Workers Rising campaign helped to organize the events.

Gisela Romero, formerly an employee of Boston's Hyatt Harborside, and Drupattie Junga, formerly of the Cambridge Hyatt, both said that they had come to Indianapolis to make sure that what had happened to them did not happen to the workers there. They shared their accounts of the tactics employed by the Boston management, when the owners used the economic situation as an excuse to fire the nearly 100 full-time employees with health and retirement benefits, and replace them with minimum-wage contractors from Hospitality Staffing Solutions, who receive no benefits.

They also explained how management deceived the Hyatt employees into training their replacements by telling the employees that the contractors were being brought in to cover situations like vacations and sick days. Then, once the training was complete, the Boston hotels dismissed nearly all of their housekeeping staff, offering them two weeks' pay, plus a bonus of no more than five to ten weeks' pay based on length of employment.

One of the demands of the national "Hope for Housekeepers" campaign is that the Boston hotels rehire all of its former housekeepers at full pay and with their former health and retirement benefits.

IN INDIANAPOLIS, many hotels already outsource their housekeeping to contractors, including Hospitality Staffing Solutions. According to Jackie White, a housekeeping employee in the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis for 28 years and founder of the Hope for Housekeepers Women's Committee in Indianapolis, housekeepers at the Hyatt are forced to clean 25-30 rooms in an eight-hour shift--as opposed to hotels with unionized housekeepers, where the average is 15 rooms.

Workers are also paid comparatively low wages, and approximately one-half of the hotel's workforce, who are trying to support families, must work a second job to provide enough for their spouses and children to survive. Keisha Johnson, a housekeeper at the Westin Indianapolis Hotel, described similar working conditions at her hotel, and declared that she and her coworkers "need for the abuses to stop."

One of the senators from the Indiana General Assembly who spoke, Greg Taylor, said that he felt compelled to support the housekeepers after a group of workers visited his office and described their working conditions to him. He said that the workers told him "stories that I never thought I'd ever hear in 2009," and then pledged that the Senate Democrats, presently a minority in the Indiana General Assembly, would "work hard to make sure you have your rights."

None of the legislators who spoke at the rally suggested boycotting the Hyatt or any of the other Indianapolis hotels, a measure that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has suggested in response to the Boston hotels' firings.

While workers applauded the senator's statement, most of them were already looking beyond the legislature to a national labor movement for support.

Each of the workers spoke of the need to organize throughout Indianapolis and other cities, and Marquita Walker, Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at IUPUI, described the importance of collective action when she spoke. "One worker standing up to a corporation like the Hyatt doesn't stand a chance," she explained, "but when you join in solidarity with other workers in a union, then you have leverage."

Many of the workers found the show of support from the community and from organizations across the state, including the Purdue Organization for Labor Equality, encouraging, and support for a union appears to be growing among the Hyatt's workers.

"Person by person, people feel more and more confident that the union is a good idea," explained Stewart Moreland, a worker at an Indianapolis hotel who has been part of the union drive since he first learned about it, "It gives you a lot of confidence that you're going to win."

Moreland also said that the Indianapolis workers are working hard to support their brothers and sisters in Chicago during union negotiations there, and plan to move forward with their efforts to begin negotiations in Indianapolis once the Chicago workers have an agreement. The workers and organizers plan to hold a follow-up meeting to discuss their ongoing efforts on Friday, November 6, at 10:30 p.m. in the Indianapolis AFL/CIO building.

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