January 2013, Week 3


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Sat, 19 Jan 2013 14:55:16 -0500
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Yoga and the Picket Line

    Bad Karma at Hyatt Regency San Francisco

By Carl Finamore
January 18-20, 2013


Each year some 2000 yoga enthusiasts assemble at
the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, California
for "a great convergence of yogis of all ages and
backgrounds" states convention sponsor Yoga
Journal. The extremely liberal and tolerant "city by
the bay" seems the perfect spot to spiritually and
intellectually delve into yoga principles of social
service and physical purification.

"But there is one huge problem," according to 19-
year veteran yoga instructor Sri Louise. "There is a
huge disconnect with our ethical values by
scheduling a convention at a union boycotted hotel
that has a lousy safety record and mistreats it

A January 17 late afternoon picket by around 150
UNITE-HERE Local 2 supporters made this point
loud and clear.

"This has been an active boycott with regular
picketing for three years and Yoga Journal has not
taken us seriously. But it is very serious that Hyatt
has distinguished itself as the worst employer in the
industry. It's the worst of the worst," San Francisco
Local 2, UNITE-HERE union representative Julia
Wong told me.

Walking on the picket line with Sri were several
other yogis including trainee Stella Ng, a nurse at
Summit Hospital in Oakland. "Yoga is for everyone,
not just for improving yourself. So social justice is
important. And I know how tough it is on
housekeepers because I worked as a state
employment counselor where workers were trained
to clean a room and make a bed in seven minutes."

Ng's professional experience dovetails with union
complaints against Hyatt for housekeeper abuse,
high injury rates and excessive workloads. Wong
offered examples to back up the union's claims that
Hyatt is the "worst of the worst."

Management requires non-union housekeepers in
Baltimore to clean up to 30 rooms, more than
double Local 2 contract standards; the NLRB is
currently conducting a hearing alleging Hyatt
retaliation against outspoken employees and,
finally, Hyatt leads the industry in contracting out
its housekeeping department. It is the Wal-Mart of
the industry."

Just like Wal-Mart, Wong explained, Hyatt wants
third-party contractors to perform work so that the
"responsibility for the hotel's rotten safety record
and mistreatment of immigrants and women can be
passed off to them."

Absolutely false characterizations, Hyatt
spokesperson Peter Hillan told me.

Defending the hotels safety record, Hillan said
"UNITE-HERE has filed 12 complaints against Hyatt
with CAL-OSHA and the most recent settlement at
Fisherman's Wharf had all the ergonomic
complaints withdrawn. We take the well-being of our
housekeepers very seriously and we will continue to
be diligent about the training and tools they have to
perform their jobs safely. These charges and the
boycott are part of an overall corporate campaign by
UNITE-HERE aimed at Hyatt."

But critics often accuse Hyatt of concealing its real
record by denying problems even exist. This
disinformation seems to be borne out by a January
17 San Francisco Bay Guardian online report
quoting CAL-OSHA chief counsel Amy Martin.

Evidently, Martin felt compelled to publically
respond to Hyatt claims that CAL-OSHA charges
were not about injuries to housekeepers but just
some paper work process violations. Hillan's
statement to me that the CAL-OSHA settlement "had
all the ergonomic complaints withdrawn" seems to
also infer only technical violations were noted and
that no actual physical injuries were sustained by

On the contrary, Martin's public statement
emphasized in response to Hyatt claims: "Cal/OSHA
believes it found plenty of evidence both of injuries
sustained by housekeepers, as well as violations of
Cal/OSHA regulations. It is technically true that
[citations] were withdrawn," she added in the
Guardian account, "but that was the outcome of an
in-depth settlement negotiation.."

So there you have it. A convention of respected and
honorable yogi masters, instructors and trainees
who certainly all agree with the "principle of
truthfulness and of being sincere, considerate and
honest" but who seem to be unable to agree that it
is simply very "bad Karma" to cross a picket line of
employees striving for their own peace of mind,
respect and consideration from a money-making
global corporate giant who just can't seem to get
their story straight.

Perhaps misleading Hyatt executives would benefit
from yoga classes themselves but, first, our friends
at Yoga Journal should perhaps reexamine their
own venerable and heartfelt practices.

Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco
Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at
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