David Bacon just sent out a nice set of photos and a short text on the hotel worker’s strike going on right now in San Francisco. One of the things I really like about the photos he’s taken is that they capture some of the joy of the picket line, workers laughing and playing with each other, not simply marching around in circles with dour faces, which is so often the images of contemporary labor unrest.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – 06NOVEMBER09 – The first of what may be many strikes hit San Francisco’s Class A hotels, when workers launched a 3-day strike against the Hyatt Grand, one of the city’s largest and most luxurious. The contract with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 2, expired in June. Since then, Local 2 has been trying to bargain a new agreement in the middle of an economic depression, in which hotels complain of reduced revenues.
The luxury hotel chains demand changes in eligibility for the health care plan that would eliminate coverage for many, or place it economically out of reach. The union has offered a one-year agreement that would increase costs by only 1.5%, but the hotels have responded that they want that low-cost structure to continue for several years more, in which their revenues and profits would rise as the depression ends.
The Hyatt was chosen as the first hotel to be struck because its owners, the Prtizker family, made an initial public offering of 38 million shares of stock today, as a result of which the family expects to receive as much as $900 million. Penny Pritzker was treasurer for the election campaign of President Barack Obama.
While the chain’s net income fell by 36% this year, it made between $168 and $336 million in each of the previous five years. In addition, Hyatt shocked hotel workers nationwide in August when it fired all its housekeepers at its three Boston hotels, replacing them with workers earning half their wages. Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian was paid $6.7 million in 2008. The average San Francisco hotel worker earns about $30,000 per year.
The Hyatt strike will last for three days, the union says, after which workers plan to return to work. If the hotels make no movement in negotiations, however, the union says workers in other hotels will take similar action. “This is a limited strike,” said Local 2 President Mike Casey. “It’s intended to send a clear signal to this corporation that they cannot use a temporary downturn to permanently drive down workers’ living standards.”
All images by David Bacon, 2009.