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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 14
Hyatt at Olive 8 workers demand a fair process to organize
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Hyatt at Olive 8 workers demand a fair process to organize

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Workers from the Hyatt at Olive 8 Hotel paid a visit to the hotel's management office April 3, to demand that management remain neutral in their efforts to organize a union.

The workers' organizing committee was accompanied by 20 community supporters, including King County Council President Larry Gossett, County Councilmember Joe McDermott, Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, and Port Commissioner Rob Holland.

Longtime activist Marsha Botzer and representatives of Pride At Work - an LGBT labor organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO - also participated in the delegation.

Mayor Mike McGinn sent Hyatt management a letter supporting the hotel workers' demand for a fair process to move forward with organizing.

'I believe workers should have the right to decide whether to join a union, free of intimidation or improper interference,' McGinn wrote. 'As this process moves forward, I am asking you to respect workers' rights to freely choose whether to join a union.

The group met with Hyatt at Olive 8 manager Michael Stephens and then went to the office of Seattle developer Richard Hedreen. Hedreen owns a minority interest in the Hyatt at Olive 8 and a majority interest in the Seattle Hilton, which is under boycott by UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers union.

At Hedreen's office, they found themselves locked out and had to present a demand letter to an administrative assistant in the building's lobby.

Nevertheless, hotel workers said, the day was a success.

'Today, our fellow brothers and sisters at Seattle's Hyatt at Olive 8, a non-union hotel, bravely stepped forward and joined thousands of Hyatt workers nationwide to organize for a better future for themselves, their families, and our community,' three union hotel workers said in a statement released April 10.

Melody Swett, Feliza Ryland, and Tim Doherty are members of UNITE HERE Local 8, which represents some 4,000 hospitality industry workers in Western Washington.

'Workers at the Hyatt at Olive 8 in Seattle are joining the movement of workers in Indianapolis, San Antonio, Scottsdale, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Long Beach calling on Hyatt to accept a fair process to enable them to choose whether or not to join a union without employer intimidation,' they continued.

Organizers at Local 8 said the organizing drive at the Hyatt at Olive 8 was the first new grassroots unionization effort in many years. The Arctic Club Hotel was unionized in 2009 through a prior 'card check' agreement with management.

'Card check' means that an employer agrees to recognize a union once a majority of the employees sign cards authorizing the union to represent them.

Union organizers say that existing labor law puts workers at a disadvantage when it comes to organizing new union properties. If an employer does not agree to remain neutral in the organizing drive and accept card check, workers have a much harder time winning the right to unionize.

Hostile employers can and do resort to all sorts of tactics - compulsory anti-union meetings, one-on-one meetings to pressure employees, threats of being fired - to intimidate employees and try to prevent them from joining a union.

One of the main demands of the Hyatt at Olive 8 workers was that management promise to remain neutral and not use unfair and intimidating tactics to prevent unionization.

Hyatt at Olive 8 manager Michael Stephens promised the delegation that 'of course we'll remain neutral.'

Contacted by Seattle Gay News, Hyatt at Olive 8 marketing manager and spokesperson Andy Bishop confirmed that management at the hotel intended to remain neutral.

Hyatt management at other locations - including Scottsdale, Arizona, where Stephens was previously manager - have responded to demands for unionization with retaliation and intimidation, union organizers said.

UNITE HERE Local 8 recently concluded a new labor agreement with the Westin Hotel which included enhanced nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers. The 2007 Westin contract was the first hotel contract in the country to explicitly protect Transgender workers.

The union's negotiations with the Space Needle are now in mediation, and negotiations with the Hilton hit a snag when the hotel refused to agree to 'successorship' language, guaranteeing that workers would keep their jobs and union protections in the event the hotel is sold.

UNITE HERE, which represents many LGBT workers, endorsed marriage equality in June 2009.

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