Hospitality workers are often out of sight: washing sheets and making our beds in hotels; preparing food for our children in school cafeterias; stocking shelves in airport shops. Thanks to their persistent activism and the solidarity of their allies, their employers cannot presume that “out of sight is out of mind.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s decision earlier this year to cancel a contract with Hyatt Regency for meeting space and meals during the upcoming Big Tent conference was an expression of solidarity with hotel workers. Three PCUSA advisory committees — for women’s concerns, for racial ethnic concerns and for social witness policy – advocated for cancellation of the contract in light of a global boycott of Hyatt begun in 2012 in response to unfair labor practices. Their concerns included “Hyatt’s refusal to provide adequate healthcare or to lower the number of beds a housekeeper cleans in order to avoid injuries.” Citing the church’s historic and biblical commitment to justice and labor equality, the Big Tent leadership team agreed to honor the boycott.
“All conditions of paid employment, including compensation and working conditions, should sustain and nurture the dignity of individuals, the well-being of households and families, the social cohesiveness of communities, and the integrity of the global environment.” God’s Work In Our Hands: Employment, Community, And Christian Vocation (General Assembly Minutes, 1995, Part I, pp. 59, 426).
On July 1, the global boycott ended when Hyatt Hotels Corporation and the union representing Hyatt workers reached a tentative agreement that, if ratified, will ensure fair wages, safer working conditions and the right to unionize. Interfaith Worker Justice, which engages faith communities in actions on behalf of worker justice, expressed gratitude for all those who joined the Hyatt worker struggle in ways large and small, saying “People of faith just like you have supported Hyatt hotel workers for many years, and because we joined workers and stood up for justice, Hyatt listened. Thank You!”
Actions on behalf of hospitality workers help ensure that they are indeed seen, heard, and respected. Interfaith Worker Justice encourages religious groups to support fair treatment of workers by including three questions in the process of selecting venues for our events:
- Is the hotel and/or conference center a union shop?
- Is the hotel and/or conference center currently involved in a labor dispute?
- Will the contract you sign with the venue include protective language that will allow you to cancel in the event of a labor dispute?
The questions we ask – or fail to ask – make a difference. This victory reminds us that solidarity does matter.