Friday, September 18, 2009

Low move by the Hyatt

When I did business travel, I always thought that the Hyatt chain provided reasonably good value. The hotels were comfortable but not flashy, tended to be in decent locations, and were decently priced - a nice middle of the road place that was a couple of steps above the bottom rung, and a few steps below the top rung. Having stayed at plenty of bottom-rung-ers over the years -  including places where I questioned whether the sheets had been changed after the previous guest left, and where I shoved a chair up under the doorknob to provide a bit of a security perimeter for myself - I was generally happy with the Hyatt's because they were clean and felt safe. And I didn't miss the hoopla of the top tier hotels where I occasionally found myself when away on business.

And then I read that Hyatts the Boston area are getting rid of their housekeeping staff and outsourcing room cleaning to a Georgia outfit called Hospitality Staffing Solutions. (Source: Boston Globe.)

So, 100 or so staffers, many of who had been on the job for 15 - 20+ years, and all of whom were making decent if not lucrative wages (think $13-16/hour range), along with health, dental, and 401K benefits, have been bounced in favor a poor souls who are so desperate for work that they're willing to take on minimum wage jobs with no benefits.

Naturally, there's twist that demonstrates soul-less, heart-less, gut-less tin-ear corporate management at its very best.

The housekeepers had been asked to train their replacements under the guise that the newcomers would be filling in during their vacations.

Make that a permanent vacation, although in this economy, I'm sure that some of the original staffers  - workers who, lets face it, are likely to have minimal education, few "marketable" skills, and are often immigrants, to boot - will suck it up and come back as half-price/no bennie employees of Hospitality Staffing Solutions.

For Hyatt, this is not naked, teeth baring, race-to-the-bottom capitalism. It's restructuring in response to "challenging economic conditions."

“Regrettably, the restructuring included staff reductions.’’

Ah, yes, Mr. Pritzker regrets.

Hey, who doesn't get that when business is down - and Hyatt's was reportedly off by 18 percent last year - that measures must be taken. Lay-offs. Pay cuts. Reduced hours.  So what else is new? The hotel industry is certainly not immune and is, in fact, especially vulnerable.

But outsourcing to a bargain basement supplier preying on the poor and uneducated seems a particularly shoddy and odious response.

One other Boston hotel - admittedly the pricey, chi-chi, and standalone Liberty Hotel (which is located in the old Charles Street Jail) chose to terminate its outside contracts for security and janitorial services and redeployed their own workers, who would have faced lay-offs. Sure, those contract workers may be redeployed to the unemployment line, but the Liberty chose loyalty to their existing, "real" employees. How quaint. How touching.

Hospitality Staffing Solutions - "Your Workforce Management Partner" - says that they provide "cost-effective staffing solutions with the attention to your business that builds a long term, mutually rewarding relationship."

Of course, the relationship is mutually rewarding for them and for the hotels: the hotel no longer pays a living wage and benefits, HSS finds people who'll work for a non-living wage, and gets to pocket the difference. Hyatt pays less, HSS makes more. Win-Win.

Except, of course, for those who are squeezed out. No mutually rewarding anything for them. (And the other losers: the taxpayers of Massachusetts, of course, who'll now have to pick up the tab for health care, etc. for the working poor trying to scratch by on $8 an hour.)

No surprise, of course, that Hospitality Staffing is headquartered in Georgia, which has one of the lowest minimum wages - $5.15 - in the US.  (Source: US Department of Labor.) At least, unlike most of their neighboring states, they have a minimum wage.  Southern hospitality? Not to low-end worker. (Y'all come back now and see us when you get a better attitude.)

Personally, I would have a lot more respect for Hyatt if they'd just flat-out looked their housekeeping staff in the eye and told them what's really going on.

Forget this BS about you're being "associates" who are the face of the hotel for our guests. No more bogus crap about you're being part of the Hyatt family. We hire you to pick up wet towels, empty wastebaskets and clean toilets. And, frankly, we don't want our"guests" to have to pay a few bucks more a night for those services so that you can make a passably living wage. We calculate that your labor is worth minimum wage plus whatever middle-man fee we'd pay Hospitality Staffing Solutions. Take it or leave it.

Nope, when it comes to the folks who do their literal dirty work, Hyatt chose to leave the metaphorical dirty work to an outsourcer.

I'm not arguing for socialism here - hey, I went to B-school - but I do think we occasionally need to ask ourselves the "elephant on the table" questions that surround completely unfettered capitalism and the notion that profit-making is the only purpose served by business. (And yes, I do know that if there's no profit- making there's no business there's no employment. C.f., hey, I went to B-school.)

But let's start with a question about how far we're willing to go with pushing down the wages of the many at the bottom for the benefit of the few at the top. 

Do the people who clean our toilets have the right to a living wage, even if it means that someone else may have to forego lighting a cigar with a fifty-dollar bill?

I have a sense where race-to-the-bottom wages will take us as a society, and it ain't pretty.

Meanwhile, while I'm writing about this, my brother Rich - Executive Director of the Greater Boston Labor Council - was on the barricades, speaking at a demonstration last evening at the Hyatt. Good for him!

3 comments: said...

Related to this post, there's an online petition at just for these Boston layoffs.

These folks should get their jobs back and the managers who perpetrated this should be fired.

rick said...

and we wonder what happened to company loyalty.

Thomas Rogers said...

Think that's not happening at City Hall's around the country. I'll bet in a few years the "Tea-Party" folks will blame all those crappy-ass no beneift jobs and the hordes of homelss/squatters on socialism. Maybe then we'll bring back the "good ole days" of substandard employer housing and the company store with script rather than cash. Slavery might be looking pretty good by then. I for one would pay a couple of bucks more for a room if I knew where to find one with real employees.