July 3, 2013
By Rabbi Ali Abrams
Director of Organizing
This week, UNITE HERE announced a tentative agreement between Hyatt workers and Hyatt Corporation that would increase workers’ wages and improve benefits. The agreement covers workers in four U.S. cities-including Chicago- through 2018.
For four long years, Hyatt workers in Chicago and across the nation have been organizing with UNITE-HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada, for better working conditions and dignity at their jobs. Hyatt had mistreated housekeepers and other hotel workers, replaced longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remained. In August 2010 JCUA Founder Rabbi Robert Marx and more than 250 other Jewish leaders nationwide signed a pledge to support the Hyatt workers. Several members of the Jewish community, including JCUA, have stood with the Hyatt workers over time. Our Or Tzedek teens have interned with UNITE-HERE and have met with workers to learn about working conditions and the power of organizing. Through delegations to Hyatt management, interfaith services, and rallies, we have helped to broadcast that treating workers unjustly is an affront to Jewish values.
On July 23, 2012 workers declared a global boycott as a way to put pressure on the Hyatt Corporation to change its ways. Through the courageous efforts of these workers- with support from the broader community- UNITE HERE and Hyatt were able to come to a tentative agreement yesterday. Once ratified, the agreement will provide back wages to workers beginning from 2009 and an increase in wages through 2018. (For more details the agreement, click here).
As multi-national corporations gain more power and the income gap widens, workers have to fight harder than ever for fair contracts, good working conditions, and the right to organize. The Hyatt boycott teaches us something very important: Boycotts are one of the most powerful tools workers have to influence employers. Workers rely on the support of consumers to have an impact. Like a strike or picket line, boycotts become necessary when employers refuse to respond to attempts at creating change in the workplace. As allies who value justice and the fair treatment of workers, it is our obligation to uphold a boycott in the same way we would respect a picket line.
Jewish tradition conveys a clear respect for work and workers and places great emphasis on employer-employee relationships that are grounded in the recognition of every person’s dignity and worth. At JCUA, we celebrate this important victory for worker justice and are proud to stand in solidarity with workers in our city.