Attendees and faculty for the Yoga Journal San Francisco Conference will be crossing hotel worker picket lines to get their yoga on this weekend. The Hyatt Regency San Francisco, where the conference will take place from January 17 – 21, is one of many Hyatt-owned properties on union activists’ boycott list. On their way to teach workshops, high-profile yoga teachers including Seane Corn, Deepak Chopra and MC Yogi will walk past workers in a struggle for better working conditions.
This week’s action is the latest in a long series of protests against the Hyatt, demanding fair treatment of hotel workers, higher wages, better benefits, safer workloads, and the right to unionize freely. After several years of actions, in July 2012 a growing movement of hotel workers organized a global boycott of the Hyatt – and they urged the yoga community to pressure Yoga Journal to not hold their conferences in the high-end hotel.
Unite Here, a union body which represents workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, and other industries in the US and Canada, has made specific efforts to inform Yoga Journal of the issue since a national boycott was launched in June 2010.
“We’ve sent letters, emails and made phone calls, as we do to lots of Hyatt customers,” Unite Here organizer Powell DeGange told IAYB via Skype. “The leadership of Yoga Journal decided not to listen to the call of the workers and they continued their relationship with the Hyatt, so they went ahead with their 2011, 2012 and now 2013 conferences.”
A History of Silence
In August 2012, IAYB reported hotel workers’ union organizers efforts to pressure Yoga Journal to support the global Hyatt boycott – and Yoga Journal’s complete lack of interest or response.
Nothing has changed since that news broke, and this weekend’s yoga conference will go ahead in the hotel as planned. One of four annual national Yoga Journal conferences, the San Francisco event has been held at the Hyatt Regency since 2004. This is a long-term business relationship, DeGange noted; Yoga Journal is a prized and repeat customer for the Hyatt.
Yoga Journal has no apparent interest in supporting the boycott, despite Unite Here’s repeated efforts to reach out to the magazine. “We have had conversations with various members of the board of directors and advisory board,” said DeGange, who has been keeping a file of notes since he initiated contact. “Some of them pay lip service to sympathy, others flat out hang up the phone on us. They don’t seem to want to listen to us or the workers.”
Unite Here continues to pressure Yoga Journal to boycott Hyatt and seek support in the San Francisco yoga community. “It’s been a mixed bag. Some people view their life and practice of yoga in a spiritual sense, beyond the physical aspects, and I feel those folks have heard us out and shown sympathy and compassion for the workers.
“Then there’s another whole sect of people in the yoga community who seem to be totally unphased by the struggles of the workers and their families. They just seem to be into their yoga. It’s hard to generalize: some people have been really awesome, and then others that are outright hostile to the idea of workers standing up for themselves.”
The Story of the Workers
One of these workers is Delia Medina, who worked at the Hyatt Regency for 38 years before stopping in 2009 because of an injury. Medina spent a good part of her room cleaning career standing up for herself and her co-workers. She detailed a day in the life of the workers:
“We have to push the heavy cart, almost 200 lbs, all day. We have to clean 14 rooms, plus in the morning we start making the beds, sometimes 20, 22, 24 beds. We have to vacuum and dust 14 rooms, and clean 14 bathrooms. We have to dust everything, clean everything. We use our bodies for the whole day. When we’re cleaning the bathroom, it’s terrible. It’s very very very very hard work all the days. It’s a very hard job. They treat the ladies very bad.”
The San Francisco Hyatt Regency is unionized. While cleaning 14 rooms per day may sound difficult, DeGange said that in non-unionized hotels, workers clean up to 30 rooms per day. “This fight with Hyatt is about protecting what the union workers have. But it’s also about the non-union workers in cities like San Antonio, Indianopolis, Scottsdale, Long Beach, where Hyatt workers don’t have union rights. The Hyatt is the most abusive company in the industry because it’s leading the fight against workers organizing in these other cities.”
Hyatt is also leading the way in raising room quotas for housekeepers, which has a devastating toll on the body, and outsourcing jobs. One of the most drastic examples happened in 2009, when Hyatt fired 100 housekeepers in three Boston-area hotels to sub-contract out room cleaning services. Outsourcing, high workloads and attacks on workers’ abilities to organize are all common practices for the Hyatt.
Yoga in Solidarity
Delia Medina, who is 84 but hardly looks a day over 50, lit up when she talked about her yoga practice: “I’ve been doing yoga for five years at the senior’s centre. I go to two classes every week, Monday and Saturday. The yoga is excellent for my body. We have too many years working as a housekeeper, to keep the body working for the whole day. The yoga is stretching the body, stretching the back. It’s excellent for the brain and all the body. It’s an excellent exercise for every single person, not just the room cleaners.”
Has she told her yoga teacher about the Hyatt boycott and the Yoga Journal Conference? Medina laughed. “Next class!”
DeGange emphasized that the fight against Hyatt is a women’s issue. Workers in the hotel industry are mainly women of color and immigrant women. Interestingly, 82% of US yoga practitioners are women.
“What we’re fighting for here is the rights of women, room cleaners, the protection of their bodies and respect in the workplace. In a group like Yoga Journal conference attendees, where there is a really large female influence, we’re hoping that there’s some kind of compassion.”
To give a sense of how the Hyatt regards women, DeGange told the story of the Reyes sisters at the San Jose Hyatt. The sisters were both fired after they spoke out against sexist photoshopped pictures of hotel housekeepers. This is symbolic of how this company treats its workers and abuses its workers, DeGange said.
Ultimately, the Hyatt and Yoga Journal have similar goals and interests. “Hyatt cares about the money. That’s all that this is. When companies like Yoga Journal keep doing business with them the corporation has no incentive to listen to the Delia, or the Nelia, or the Cynthia, or listen to Rose, who are all workers at the Hyatt Regency.
“We’re really asking that the community of people who do business with the Hyatt – including Yoga Journal – respond to this. We’re not just asking for general help and support. We’re asking people to not write Hyatt a check. Don’t do business with the Hyatt. That’s the best thing anyone can do.”
Why should the yoga community support hotel workers? Medina offered a yogic response: “The community has to help and support all the workers. We’re all the same. All the workers need respect and consideration.”
What you can do:
1. Sign the pledge to not eat, meet or sleep in Hyatt Hotels.
2. Get in touch with faculty in the 2013 San Francisco conference and encourage them to pressure Yoga Journal to join the global boycott against Hyatt.
3. Contact Yoga Journal’s Communications Director (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Yoga Journal Events (email@example.com), urging them to sign the pledge and hold the 2014 Yoga Journal San Francisco conference in another facility.