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Labor-Management Battles Once Fought on Picket Lines Now Hit Cyberspace -
Hyatt Takes Labor Contract Negotiations to YouTube

By Julie Wernau, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 05, 2011--Labor-management battles, once fought on picket lines and behind closed doors, are now being waged in cyberspace. Borrowing from the union's playbook, Hyatt laid out its latest offer to hotel workers on last week.

Hyatt also played the video continuously on television monitors in employee cafeterias of properties in Chicago. Hotel workers said the video, which featured actors speaking in English, Cantonese and Spanish, caused a stir by noting that a $1,000 employee bonus expired Dec. 20.

"They put it right in front of the cafeteria in a continuous loop. Every day. Every hour. People are just sick and tired of it," said Cristian Saez, 36, a waiter at Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. "The fun part of mocking the videos is over, and now it's just insulting."

On Tuesday, the YouTube video had more than 570 views.

"We have been listening to the union as they go on YouTube, go to our employees, to the newspaper and our civic leaders, and a lot of it has been misinformation," said Patrick Donnelly, general manager of Hyatt Regency Chicago, which produced the video in a month and distributed it to other Hyatt properties in Chicago. "We wanted something that would give out the facts."

Hyatt had offered employees $1,000 bonuses if the union agreed to management's latest contract offer by Dec. 20. That deadline passed, leaving some employees angry with the union.

Saez said the reference to the lost bonuses has sparked debate and splintered Hyatt employees.

"It's pitting some people against other people because some people don't understand what they're actually losing," Saez said. "They're like, 'I need the money. I need the money.'"

Bob Bruno, director of the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Hyatt circumvented the union's message to its members by using YouTube.

"That's a win for the employer, who would like to weaken degrees of solidarity around the union's position," Bruno said.

In the more than 16 months since contracts expired for Chicago hotel workers, the union has tried everything to pressure Hyatt into striking a deal, including enlisting the help of rabbis and posting its own videos on YouTube. The videos range from Unite Here Local 1 hotel workers speaking directly to management to acts of civil disobedience. Some of the union videos have thousands of views.

Now Hyatt's video is there too.

"Instead of fighting for you, we believe (the union is) using you as bargaining chips in a national agenda that has nothing to do with you or us or Chicago. Enough is enough," an actor says, as he details Hyatt's contract offer that affects 8,000 hotel workers in the Chicago area.

Using social media as a tactic for labor negotiations is relatively new for employers, Bruno said.

"You want to create a buzz around an alternative way of framing the situation," Bruno said. "Studies show that with the exception of maybe the lowest-paid union members, the overwhelming majority have access to the Internet, and they go on the Web."

Labor laws prohibit employers from negotiating directly with their unionized employees. YouTube is the next best thing, Bruno said.

"(At work) they've got them captive and they can control the message," he said. "(With YouTube), employees could go home and they could look at it again at home. They could share with people who aren't in the workplace."

"Just the Facts: Hyatt Hotels in Chicago & Unite-Here" can found at youtube.com/watch?v=KsCAu3DigBI.

jwernau@tribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2011, Chicago Tribune

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