Indianapolis City Council Give Hotel Employees “Freedom to Work”
July 18, 2012 12:42 pm
In May, Unionosity reported on ongoing efforts against exploitative labor practices at the Hyatt hotel chain, detailing efforts on behalf of the Indianapolis city council to stop the practice of hotels and temporary staffing agencies from using contracts preventing the permanent hire of hotel employees. Yesterday, the Democratic members of council passed the “Freedom to Work” ordinance, which would prevent this very practice, by a 16-12 vote.
Indianapolis is the largest U.S. city without any union hotels, and hotel workers in the city have been told that they do not qualify for direct employment due to a contract with the temp agency Hospitality Staffing Services (HSS). The Indypendent reports:
After four months as a temporary banquet server at the Sheraton in Indianapolis, Fernando Gomez asked his manager about working directly for the hotel. The manager told Gomez he couldn’t apply because “there’s a contract.”
The contract was not something Gomez had signed or even seen because it is an agreement between his temp agency employer, Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), and the hotel, promising not to hire HSS workers.
Many Indianapolis hotels who take advantage of these blacklist contracts have received public subsidies for construction. The Indianapolis Marriott, which maintains a no-hire contract with HSS, received $60 million in public funds for the construction of a 1,000 room hotel. These subsidies drove the city council to exercise their leverage over hotel chains, but the bill must still be signed by the city’s Republican Mayor.
The “Freedom to Work” law is a victory for UNITE HERE’s nationwide Hyatt Hurts campaign. In January, a class action seeking to represent 3,000 hotel workers was brought on the basis of alleged wage and hour violations against Hyatt, HSS and nine other Indianapolis hotels. The lawsuit resulted in the quick termination of Hyatt’s contract with HSS, but the hotel quickly contracted another temp agency (using a contract that apparently does not have a no-hire clause).
The problem with Hyatt extends way past Indianapolis. Hyatt fired 100 permanent housekeepers in Boston in favor of temporary staff, turned heatlamps on strikers in Chicago and has been plagued by alleged Fair Labor Standards Act violations. The gap in pay and workload between represented and temporary employees demonstrates the profit motive of “permatemp” contracts. From Justice At Hyatt, a clergy report on labor abuses at the hotel chain: “[In Boston] before being fired, the housekeepers had made about $15 an hour plus benefits and cleaned 16 rooms a day. Housekeepers at Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS) start at the minimum wage of $8.00 per hour. They reportedly receive no sick days, vacation days, health care or pension, and they are required to clean up to 30 rooms a day.”
The Indianapolis ordinance should encourage other local governments to help workers trapped in a vicious cycle of low-wages, no benefits and no protection from workplace violations. Bravo to the Democratic members of Indianapolis City Council for bringing the ordinance, and stay tuned for more on UNITE HERE’s nationwide campaign.
Image from here