Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Protesters sit and chant during a Boston demonstration against Hyatt hotel hiring practices. Such actions have continued since August 2009, including a protest in Cambridge on Thursday. (Photo: Jason Pramas, Open Media Boston, CC-BY-NC-SA 2011)

Nonviolent protests at the Hyatt hotel on Memorial Drive resulted in 35 arrests Thursday, according to police department communication specialist Dan Riviello.

“The demonstration began around 4 p.m. and was peaceful and organized,” said Riviello, describing the crowd as at between 200 and 250 people opposed to the hotel chain’s year-ago layoff of its housecleaners and current outsourcing of the work for lower pay. Unite Here Local 26 has led protest efforts, since some 130 workers were fired Aug. 31, 2009, among the three Hyatt properties in Cambridge and Boston. The workers have been termed the Hyatt 100.

Participants agreed that the protest was not only peaceful, but, in the words of activist David Duhalde, “exciting” — and a demonstration that anti-Hyatt efforts haven’t diminished over time, as well as that unions continue to care about labor issues beyond those specific to their own members.

“I haven’t seen that many people out on a hot summer day from so many different kinds of groups” in a long time, Duhalde said Friday. “There were people there from all different walks of life … all behaving really well. It made me proud to be a Cambridge resident.”

About an hour after the 575 Memorial Drive protest started, in unchanging, sweltering heat, some of the group walked onto Hyatt property “and sat down in the driveway outside of the main entrance. After being told they were trespassing and given ample opportunity to leave the property, all 35 were arrested for trespassing and transported to the police station for booking,” Riviello said.

On the way to being booked, each person was evaluated by a medic for heat-related complications. There had been medics from the Cambridge Fire Department and EMS personnel from Pro Ambulance on hand as part of the up to 80 public safety personnel called in, Riviello said. Also there were between 50 and 60 Tactical Patrol Force officers split into squads — rotated to keep officers safe during the extreme heat — and four detail officers, whose cost  is to be covered by the hotel company. The city’s expense for the other personnel can’t be given until next week, but Riviello noted that many were regularly scheduled employees who were simply reassigned to the protest.

Still, he said, “the protest was completely nonviolent.  All involved — protesters, hotel staff, hotel guests and onlookers, and police personnel — acted in an extremely professional and respectful manner.”

The issue has appeared several times before the City Council, with resolutions and policy orders requesting bans on city business with the Hyatt, investigating ways to dissuade the hotel’s use and even threats against its license, since the city defines what business practices warrant a license to business here.

Many of the employees were at Hyatt for more than one or even two decades and earned $15 or $16 per hour. Now, if they still work at Hyatt, it is through temp agencies that pay $8 per hour.

The hotel chain is unrepentant, though.

“Unfortunately, Unite Here continues to take advantage of our former Hyatt associates affected by the business decision we were forced to make in August 2009 to advance its own national membership drive,” said a statement issued by the hotel. “Even though Hyatt covered the cost of extended medical insurance coverage and offered alternative job opportunities to every affected Hyatt housekeeper, Unite Here continues to call for a boycott of Hyatt Boston hotels, putting the jobs of the hotels’ 600 associates at risk. We believe it is well past time to put an end to publicity stunts and street theatrics.”

The response was disappointing to Duhalde. “It sounds like Hyatt isn’t making any concerted efforts to resolve this,” he said. “They’re just prolonging the suffering of the Hyatt 100.”