Hyatt Hotels Corp is trying to lock its workers into recession-era wages despite an economic uptick that has helped bolster shares about 40 percent since Hyatt's initial public offering in November, a union spokeswoman said on Wednesday.
Speaking to Reuters by phone from a protest outside Hyatt's first annual shareholder meeting in Chicago, Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel said the company should share its good fortune with the workers.
She said the newly public Hyatt is trying to force inadequate compensation on workers as it negotiates contracts. Strassel said about 150 workers showed up for the protest.
They are being told it's because of tough times, but at the same time Hyatt shares are going up astronomically, Strassel said.
Workers are still feeling the squeeze, she said.
Hyatt's meeting was open only to shareholders and closed to media, but a Hyatt spokeswoman issued a statement saying the company expects to negotiate satisfactory deals with its employees.
While we respect their right to express their views, we believe the most productive place to address important workplace matters is at the negotiating table, the company said.
Hyatt spokeswoman Farley Kern said a human resources representative discussed labor issues with community religious leaders who were blocked from attending the meeting.
The hotel industry suffered last year under the weight of the economic recession that drained travel demand and lowered hotel occupancy rates.
Hyatt let 98 of its workers in Boston go last August, saying it needed to protect the viability of Hyatt's three Boston hotels amid the economic downturn.
Unite Here, which staged vigils and rallies for Hyatt employees in a dozen cities last year, however, said that the recession has ended.
Part of the workers' outrage stems from Hyatt's 2009 initial public offering. To lure investors, Hyatt touted its strong balance sheet, boasting more than five times the combined cash of its two big rivals, Marriott International Inc and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc .
In light of that statistic, hotel workers have difficulty understanding Hyatt's decision to cut jobs.
Hyatt shares were up 4 percent at $38.80 on the New York Stock Exchange in midday trade.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)