A union vote was scheduled for housekeepers, bellboys, and other “domestics” employed at the San Antonio Grand Hyatt this past July, but organizers canceled it at the last minute, claiming that the hotel chain’s dissuasion tactics had been successful enough to queer the vote. The alleged arm-twisting included intimidating workers in captive-audience meetings orchestrated by a union-buster from California named Héctor Flores. Flores spent close to a month at the hotel, according to employees.
“Over 60 percent `of the workers` signed for the union back in February,” said Jay Mehta, an organizer from hotel-worker union Unite Here. “But then they got scared with threats of losing their jobs if they voted for the union, which is illegal to do, but they do it anyway.”
Outspoken union advocate Gabriel Morales was fired September 1 for, he says, “being late two minutes to a mandatory meeting on my day off.”
Grand Hyatt General Manager Tom Netting declined to discuss the mysterious Héctor Flores, saying only, “Any information on anyone working for the hotel in any capacity is confidential between us and that individual.” But the same name appears in a research paper titled “The Long Slow Death of Workplace Democracy at the Chinese Daily News” among a list of Southern California firms that specialize in “counter-organizing campaigns involving immigrant workers.” A call placed to Flores’s Cali office was not returned.
The San Antonio labor dispute between the workers and the Grand Hyatt is not an isolated incident, but part of a larger trend that Business Week called “one of the most successful anti-union wars ever.” On September 24, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced that he plans to urge state employees to boycott the Hyatt while conducting official state business, unless the hotel chain rehires almost 100 housekeepers it fired in August after tricking them into training their replacements, as reported by the Boston Globe. (The Hyatt denies the allegations.)
“I know it’s risky, but I want to be here for this fight,” said Daniel Ovalle, who works in housekeeping at SA’s Grand Hyatt. “We’re fighting for a better standard of living, better health care, better working conditions. That’s worth fighting for.”
In October, the San Antonio Grand Hyatt service workers will join the Unite Here-sponsored seven-city Hope for Housekeepers campaign, with three local events, including a rally and march to City Hall on October 15. According to Mehta, housekeepers in seven cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and SA, will make patches for the Hope Quilt, which will be about 80 feet long by 6 feet wide and will be presented to the Council.
Will the Mayor be sympathetic? “He met with `the workers` early on, when he was elected,” said his spokesman, Jaime Castillo. “He doesn’t remember exactly when. But in the big scheme of things, this isn’t a city issue — this is between the workers and the hotel. It’s not a fight for the Mayor to pick or bait.”
Friends in low places
The Grand Hyatt’s Netting may have little love for reporters, but he’s interested in making friends in politics: He offered a dinner-for-four gift package at the Grand Hyatt for last Friday’s Bexar County Democratic Party “Get Out the Vote” fundraiser. But BCDP Chair Carla Vela says the silent-auction donation didn’t come through.
“We never got that one,” she said. “Why? Is there a problem with the Grand Hyatt?”
Well, they’ve been accused of union-busting.
“I support my unions 100 percent,” said Vela. “Maybe it’s just as well.”
Maybe so. This quote, which appears at the top of the bexardemocrats.org website, must stand for something:
“Political campaigns cost money. And it makes a lot of difference where that money comes from. If it comes from you, your politicians will be free to represent you. If it comes from someplace else, they won’t be. It’s as simple as that ... ”
Great White hunter
Houston Mayor, U.S. Senate hopeful, and adorable Mad Hatter double Bill White was in town Saturday for a round of stumping, which wrapped up late-afternoon at La Margarita in Market Square, where the candidate sipped a cup of coffee and explained his nuclear philosophy to the QueQue.
“Nuclear energy should be a part of the mix,” said White, who served as Deputy Secretary of Energy under Clinton. The mix = energy efficiency + renewables + natural gas + some nuclear to “back down on our coal reliance.”
“My advice, publicly and privately,” he said, “is beware of cost overruns.” In the ’70s, he added, no one took into account the effect increased demand for commodities such as high-alloy steel and skilled labor would have on construction costs.
While White agrees that radioactive waste disposal is a valid concern, he says it’s “not so much a technical issue as one of overcoming Not In My Backyard,” and suggested that we may find an “international solution” that includes “vitrified waste.” Vitrification, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, turns the waste into a black glass that is more stable and easier to store, although no less radioactive.
The native San Antonian, who claims Mexican-American voting-rights pioneer Willie Velasquez as a mentor, began his stump speech with Equality (“`Elected officials` are not masters, we are servants”; no one in America is more important than anyone else.), transitioned smoothly to Diversity (cast as a global-competitiveness advantage), and rolled right into Opportunity (better education means better jobs).
It was all smiles and clapping until the end, when El Mercado businessman Roman Peña challenged White over Houston’s 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Houston pursued the ICE partnership, in which the feds train local officers to identify undocumented immigrants, after a police officer was shot by a previously convicted undocumented immigrant last spring. According to the Houston Chronicle, the city is currently negotiating the finer points of the agreement so it would target only non-citizens who’ve been convicted of felonies and other serious crimes.
After a brief, heated exchange about the accuracy of Peña’s complaint, White said, “I believe the most basic civil right of all is to be secure in your person, to be free of violence.” And as an indication of the weight of this issue in the election* — where White will face former state legislator and comptroller John Sharp, among others — State Representative Mike Villarreal took the mic to explain:
“What they’re trying to do in Houston, `which` is very reasonable, is to remove illegal citizens who have caused violence on persons,” Villarreal said. “And really responds to what all Latinos want, which is safety in their neighborhoods.”
White took the mic again to tout his city’s response to Hurricane Katrina, when some 250,000 New Orleans refugees washed up in Houston, and to sum up: “I think it’s important to distinguish between people who are working and people who are preying on others.”
Tricky politicking is already at play in this area: Sharp’s campaign circulated a letter critical of White’s pursuit of a 287(g) agreement on what purported to be “League of United Latin Americans Citizen” (sic) letterhead. LULAC disowned the stationery, although the letter, signed by LULAC advisor Angela Garcia, reflects that individual’s concerns, says LULAC President Rosa Rosales.
“We are voters too,” the letter reads, “and our votes will go to candidates who in no uncertain terms reject the kind of racial profiling encouraged by the 287(g) program you are so eager to participate in.”
The for-real countdown
Like Batman without the Joker? Superman without Lex Luthor? Holmes sans Moriarty? Poirot bereft of ... well, the fussy Belgian had no equal. But the point is we’re feeling just a little ... verklempt ... since we learned that our crosstown Hearst-subsidized rival, 210SA, is closing up shop this week after a two-and-half-year run. Sure, they blocked us on Twitter, and yes, we made relentless fun of their on-the-street “fashion” coverage, but we hold no grudges against the paper’s hardworking editorial staffers, who will be reabsorbed into the Express-News Borg “at each individual’s current rank and pay,” according to E-N Editor Bob Rivard.
Cause of death? That goddam housing bubble.
“Despite the good work of its staff, the weak advertising market has prevented us from realizing the goals we set for revenues and profits,” wrote Publisher Tom Stephenson in an email circulated Monday.
“Everyone worked hard to make it a success, but the timing of its introduction into the market in advance of the recession meant those best efforts were not enough to justify its continued publication.”
The economy will not be formally charged or tried for the crime, however, because it’s already serving an indefinite sentence for crashing the greatest run of luxury-good overconsumption in recorded history. But if it were, we might introduce a few exhibits in its defense: lack of substance, e.g., and entirely uncritical reporting on the art and music scenes. But on 210SA’s behalf, we’ll add that the paper is folding just as it seemed to be seriously addressing those shortcomings.
RIP 210SA. •
* This column originally indicated that that White would face Sharp and other Democratic candidates in a primary. Because this would be a special election to fill out Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's unexpired term, all candidates would compete against each other in an open election.
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