Boycott Hyatt and Patronize Union Hotels: A Jewish Obligation of the Union for Reform Judaism

Editor's Note: Though Tikkun is not officially affiliated with any branch of Judaism (or any other religion), we’ve always had great respect for the Reform movement in Judaism. We’ve been proud that since our start in 1986, a variety of the Reform movement’s most significant leaders have served on our editorial board, including rabbis Alexander Schindler, Al Vorspan, and David Saperstein. Our pages have been graced by the wisdom of many who teach at the Hebrew Union College or serve as pulpit rabbis. So it is with a heavy heart that we’ve had to confront the issues raised in this article by Ross Hyman.

Protestors Picketing Hyatt

Workers walk in the cold night to fight for each other’s rights, having taken the difficult and courageous step of calling for a boycott of their own hotels. Credit: UNITE HERE.

“I was fired after speaking out against the injustices I have seen at Hyatt,” says Sonia Ordoñez, a former cook for the Hyatt Regency Chicago. “I don’t want to go back to having two jobs to take care of my family. We have to change this company we work for before things get any worse.”

Ordoñez is one of many Hyatt workers whose struggle for fair wages and job protections is in urgent need of support from major conference organizers such as the Union of Reform Judaism.

Ordoñez immigrated to the United States to join her ex-husband after he fled the war in Nicaragua, but once she arrived she found that her husband had changed. “He started to beat me and abuse me,” she says. After leaving her husband, she took on two temp jobs—one in the daytime and another at night—to support her daughter and newborn son. Temp agencies “pay a miserable wage and abuse workers’ desperation,” Ordoñez says, reflecting on how temp workers have lower wages, fewer workplace safety protections, and can’t join unions. That’s why she was delighted to land the Hyatt job and join a union. “I thanked God because I no longer had to have two jobs or work through the agency,” she says. “I could finally provide for my family and spend time with my kids.”

Since being fired, Ordoñez has continued to take part in her union’s fight, speaking out about workplace injustices at Hyatt and urging conference organizers such as the Union of Reform Judaism to join a targeted boycott against the hotels that UNITE HERE has identified as the worst offenders.

Rabbinic Support for Collective Bargaining

Since at least 1928, the rabbinic arm of the Reform movement, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, has held that collective bargaining between workers and employers is not just a right of workers but is essential to the well-being of workers and the elimination of poverty. The Central Conference of American Rabbis has affirmed this position several times throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. On the basis of these longstanding principles, in 2000 it wrote a teshuvah (rabbinic response) that Reform institutions should use their purchasing power to strengthen unions and promote collective bargaining by hiring union labor.

The most significant purchasing power that Reform institutions command is its hotel contracts for its conferences and conventions. David Saperstein, in a 2006 issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, reported that “the Union for Reform Judaism’s most recent national biennial convention represented a windfall of 10,000 room-nights and more than $1.6 million for Houston hotels.” The full purchasing power of the Reform Institutions is much greater than this if one includes all Reform conferences and conventions. In the Forward article, Rabbi Saperstein pledged to work with the Informed Meetings Exchange, an organization founded by UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers union, to help institutions use their purchasing power in the hotel industry to support workers. The Informed Meetings Exchange has evolved into a nonprofit, socially responsible meeting planner that helps organizations select union hotels with fair contracts and negotiate protective language in contracts with hotels so that organizations can cancel contracts without penalty if there is a labor dispute, including a boycott.

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