yoga journal conference & hyatt boycott: one teacher speaks out

Protestors in front of the Yoga Journal San Francisco conference at the Hyatt Regency (image via Facebook)

Protestors in front of the Yoga Journal San Francisco conference at the Hyatt Regency (image via Facebook)

Comments and opinions about the Yoga Journal San Francisco conference and Hyatt boycott abound here on IAYB and on social media. But do we really know all the facts? Chelsea Roff provided some reportage in Tuesday’s article and the San Francisco media has written about the event.

However, we’ve heard little about the discussions at the conference and most of the yoga teachers on faculty have been quiet. Other than Seane Corn’s Facebook status in support of the boycott, and an alleged statement of support from Shiva Rea, the majority of the Yoga Journal conference presenters have refrained from making public comments.

One person who has been willing to get into the fray is Eric Shaw, a yoga scholar and teacher who jumped in the discussion on the “I Pledge to Not Attend or Teach at the 2014 Yoga Journal Conference at the Hyatt if  Boycott Continues” Facebook event and the Decolonizing Yoga fanpage. Shaw taught two sessions at the conference; when he wasn’t teaching he took the time to interview four Hyatt workers and a Hyatt manager, and talk to Yoga Journal and yoga teacher colleagues about the situation.

This is what he learned:

January 22: The last day of the Yoga Journal Conference was yesterday, and after doing a full-day event with Jenny Sauer Klein, I snagged a Hyatt manager in the hallway and was able to get a word from her about labor events there. I described what I had heard from her workers about management being unwilling to sign the contract because they objected to the clause about the union making new sites union sites by fiat, and she said the management had no means to even do that—only workers voting to have union representation could thereby bring the union in, and hence the request was untenable. She said other existing sites had not voted for a union and suggested that the union wanted this clause to expand its numbers base and gain more dues. She said the union was also holding out for a clause that allowed them to strike in the midst of the term covered by a contract—despite the fact that they had signed a contract.

She was proud of her workers and their relationships, she said. She heartily invited me to interview other workers (as I had the day before) and get further opinions.

January 20: It was interesting to be at the yoga journal conference yesterday and today and learn more about the events at the Hyatt.

There is no strike by the Hyatt employees at present, and when I arrived, anticipating learning more from protesters, there were no pickets. The union is, however, asking for a boycott, and it has been signed onto by the NFL and other major organizations. The union is hoping to leverage ongoing contract negotiations by maintaining it.

I talked to colleagues who had talked to workers and talked to four workers, myself. I attempted twice to talk to management. Both times I left my phone number and was promised a call but did not receive one.

All workers that I talked to told me the battle with the Hyatt had been going on for five years without a contract signing. They said they were owed back wages and as-yet-ungiven upticks in their wages.

I was told the sticking point in the contract is that the Union wants the right to strike when other union and non-union hotels strike, and to have all future Hyatt hotels unionized. Hyatt will not agree to this. However, Hyatt has agreed to all other clauses in the contract—ones which bring Hyatt wages and benefits in line with other national unionized hotels.

None of the workers I spoke to supported the boycott or wanted another strike. They expressed frustration at having to work under an expired contract while other hotels had already negotiated new contracts. Every one of them expressed frustration with the Union’s further demands and two of the four said, “they do not represent us.” All wanted the contract signed quickly, but one expressed doubt that it would happen and said that its original term meant that it was due to expire in few months anyway.

Three of the four thanked me personally for being there or expressed gratitude for the conference, generally, saying things like, “We want you here.” The one who didn’t said (with feeling but without completely clear rationality): “We don’t even want you here because you bring outside protesters and a boycott and that means we don’t get shifts.”

I am sure there are other stories from other workers. I look forward to talking to management. On my side I am grateful for understanding at least part of the facts on the ground and understanding that the situation is complex. For those of you who are interested in the desires of the workers and the reality at the Hyatt, this information might inform further action in your agitation. It would, at least, I hope, calm down some the virulence and bring respect for the diversity of realities here—among those, at least, who are open to having respectful conversations.

There are multiple sides to every story, and I applaud Shaw’s willingness to get involved in the conversation and offer his first-hand experience at the conference.