|By Michael Kinsman, San Antonio
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 11, 2006 - Housekeepers at San Diego's largest hotel have begun public protests over what they say is a dramatic surge in their workload.
An estimated 80 percent of the 135-member housekeeping staff of the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego have been participating in one-hour afternoon protests for the past 10 days outside the downtown waterfront hotel.
The nonunion housekeepers say the Hyatt instituted new requirements in January that increased the number of rooms they clean each day from 17 to 30.
"After their workday, many of these housekeepers are participating in a good-faith protest against the changes in Hyatt's corporate policy that have caused them to do much more work for no pay increase," said Gerardo Constantino of the Raza Rights Coalition. It is a community organization that supports Latino workers and immigrants' rights in San Diego.
Hotel officials would not comment on the protests yesterday and provided a brief prepared statement that denied the housekeepers' workload had been increased.
The statement said Hyatt is following an industrywide trend of developing housekeeping efficiencies that reduce the amount of time required to clean rooms and will conserve energy.
The Manchester has 1,625 rooms, and its distinctive twin towers sit prominently near the San Diego Convention Center.
In early January, members of Hyatt's executive staff met with representatives of the housekeepers and agreed to some workplace concessions concerning adequate water stations and restroom facilities, Constantino said.
Public protests by groups of nonunion workers are rare, said Peter Zschiesche, executive director of the organized labor-supported Employee Rights Center and a member of the San Diego Labor Council's executive board.
"It's very unusual for a group of workers to confront an employer the size of Hyatt," he said. "What I find even more remarkable is that the company sat down and talked with these workers about their grievances."
The Employee Rights Center serves as an information source on workers' rights for nonunionized employees.
Zschiesche said the center has been counseling the Hyatt housekeepers on their legal rights. He said he has not been involved in any union organizing talks with the workers.
"Right now, their focus is on fighting for better working conditions," Zschiesche said. "These nonunion workers have all the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, and we have been advising them of what they need to do to follow that act."
Any strike by the housekeepers is unlikely because they don't have union strike funds and support to fall back on, Constantino said. Starting pay for housekeepers begins at the $6.75 minimum wage. Some longtime housekeepers can earn up to $13 per hour.
A majority of the housekeepers are Latinas, Constantino said.
Zschiesche said the bonding together of workers in an informal group to fight to improve working conditions harkens back to the 1930s, prior to the 1935 congressional approval of the Wagner Act granting workers the right to join or form labor organizations.
As part of that act, the National Labor Relations Board was established to arbitrate labor-management disputes, guarantee democratic union elections and penalize employers for unfair labor practices.
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