Marta Reyes worked for six years at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara. Six hard years. Six years of pressure. Six years of stress. Six years of not enough resources to do the job in the impossible time frames expected. Six years of cleaning 30 rooms a day. Six years of nearly constant physical pain, particularly excruciating at the end of a long day's work. Six years of no affordable health care benefits to draw upon for support.
Dozens of workers just like Marta gathered outside the California Academy of Sciences to make their voices heard on the night of April 19. The Academy was holding a society event called the Big Bang Gala, of which Carrie Walton-Penner was co-host. Walton-Penner's husband Greg is a member of the boards of directors at both Hyatt Hotels and Wal-Mart, another major American employer currently rife with labor difficulties. Demonstrators hoped to speak to the Penners and call attention to the abuses running rampant through the companies Greg Penner is involved with. Marta Reyes was a member of the delegation that attempted to gain entry to the gala. The delegation was turned back, while protesters yelled “Shame!” over and over again.
Despite the difficulties, Marta Reyes kept working at the Hyatt. It was a job, and it paid money that her family needed. All the while, she worked as a leader among the burgeoning ranks of those agitating for unionization of the Hyatt workforce. All across America, Hyatt employees – housekeepers, food service workers, desk clerks – have been steadily clamoring for the protection and security a labor union provides. The Santa Clara Hyatt Regency was no different. Marta was a leader among the housekeeping staff fighting to have a card check election in the hotel.
“We were fighting for the union,” she said Thursday evening through a translator. “We were fighting for job security, for a decent workload, for affordable health care, for better benefits.”
In September 2011, during Housekeeping Appreciation Week at the hotel, someone from management posted images, on the housekeeping staff bulletin board, of scantily clad, buxom women, with the housekeeping staff's faces pasted on top of them. “I went to work to clean, not to be made fun of,” Marta told BeyondChron
. She took down her picture and that of her sister. Two weeks later she and her sister were fired. She received no advance notice. There was no attempt by management to smooth anything over, to mediate any conflict. It was Marta's understanding that, after years of union agitating, it was her refusal to be disrespected as a woman that got her fired.
Misty Tanner was one of the demonstrators representing Wal-Mart employees. As an assistant manager, Misty saw firsthand the systematic abuse and disrespect heaped upon Wal-Mart's associates. She joined the Our Wal-Mart movement to get associates involved with having their voices heard. Thus far, there have been no repercussions for her membership. She says she and the rest of Our Wal-Mart have been promised no retaliation for their participation in the group, specifically because it's not a labor union.
When asked if she believes Wal-Mart has engaged in active union-busting practices, she said, “Absolutely. I know that if there's even talk of a union among our associates, we will try to find a way to get rid of those people.”
That's just one of the practices she finds objectionable at Wal-Mart. On a more basic level, she feels that workers are threatened daily with job loss as a control tactic. Recently, thousands of Wal-Mart associates were stripped, unilaterally, without discussion or warning, of their full-time status so the company could save money on benefits.
The average Wal-Mart manager makes $250,000 per year. The average Wal-Mart associate makes $16,000 – which is what the CEO makes in an hour. To top it off, Tanner noted, a UC Berkeley study found that the California pays out $89 million in assistance to underemployed, underpaid Wal-Mart employees.
Thursday, of course, was not a victory. It was another step in a long struggle against anti-labor forces all over America. Several gala attendees stopped to discuss the issues with protesters, as did may passersby. As this issue grows in prominence, minds will continue to be changed by exposure to the realization of what's really going on in America's workplaces.