On a bustling Saturday afternoon at San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel, there was a strange disturbance at the check-in counter. A seemingly innocuous gay couple had approached the front desk to inquire about checking in to the hotel. After speaking with the receptionist for moment, one of the women suddenly shouted frantically to her wife, in a voice that carried across the lobby, “Honey, I just realized we can’t stay here, this hotel is under boycott!” Her partner promptly turned around and burst into song: “Oh-oh-oh-oh-NO! oh-oh-oh! We’re caught in a bad hotel!”
As she sang people joined in from all over the lobby. Making their way from out of the cafe and out from every corner they gathered singing in unison. Much to the amazement of the hotel guests, a flash mob song & dance routine had began! Numbered among them was a brass band, brandishing clarinets, drums, susaphones, and giant horns, filling the ritzy lobby with sound, as dozens of dancers sang along at the top of their lungs.
The group was playing Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance” rewritten to say, “Don’t get caught in a bad hotel!” The event had been called to draw attention to to a boycott called by the workers of the hotel who are fighting to win a fair contract and affordable healthcare. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer activists put the song & dance together as a creative way to tell the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people from all over the country coming to San Francsico in June for Pride to honor the worker-called boycott.
A confused and amused crowd gathered to watch the dancers continue shouting: “Boycott! Boycott! Workers rights are hot!” After the dance number the band paused for one of the event organizers to make an announcement on the bull horn. “We are here to tell people to workers have called for a boycott of this hotel. We are sending a message to
the hotel corporations that the gay community is an important source of tourists dollars and that we support the worker boycott,” said Jane Martin. “At the same time, we are sending the message to members of our own LGBTQ community that when you come to San Francisco in June for the Pride celebration, support the workers and honor the hotel boycott.”
Over 9,000 San Francisco hotel workers have been working without a contract since mid-August 2009 at several Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood, and InterContinental Hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area. After repeated attempts at negotiations, these workers are being denied affordable and high-quality healthcare. This is despite soaring profits at these multinational corporations. The Starwood Corporation made $180 million in profit in the first nine months of 2009. The Hyatt Corporation generated $950 million for its majority owner – the Pritzker family, and Hilton Hotels recently announced that they have $12.6 billion in available capital to invest in new high-asset ventures over the next several years.
Determined to win adequate healthcare for themselves and their families, workers at these hotels have taken the difficult step of calling for a boycott of their own workplaces. Workers have officially called for a boycott of Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, Grand Hyatt, Le Meridien, The Palace, Westin St. Francis, Hilton (at O’Farrell), and the W Hotel, with more hotels expected to be added to this this list as summer approaches.
Leo Volobrynskyy an openly gay hotel banquet server said, “We are asking the LGBT community to support us in our struggle to get a fair contract to ensure the future of our families and the rights of LGBT members working in the hotels. In the past we have negotiated language in our contract protecting same sex couples. The union has supported the rights of gay hotel workers and so we hope the LGBT community will stand with us now.”
After the dance performance in the Westin St. Francis Hotel, the crowd cheered and continued to look on in amazement as the group danced their way out of the hotel and down the street to repeat the entire performance at the Grand Hyatt, another hotel that is under boycott. Along the way more protestors and passers by joined in. This time the hotel had been alerted that the gorup was comming, but nothing stood in the way of the hundred protestors as they entered the Hyatt. The group performed in the lobby to great applause and wrapped up with a
boisterous picket line outside the hotel. As one participant, Fred Sherbern, put it, “it’s more fun to protest with the gays, cause we’ve got the attitude and we know how to dance.”
To learn more about how to honor the boycott and support the workers visit:
This event was organized by:
San Francsico Pride at Work / HAVOQ
One Struggle One Fight
The Brass Liberation Orchestra
Additional Background Information:
Many LGBT organizations & leaders in San Francisco have already endorsed the workers boycott including: the San Francisco Pride Parade, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano, San Francisco Pride at Work, and One Struggle One Fight.
“As part of the city’s progressive movement, the LGBTQ community stands with hotel workers in solidarity. As we fight for equality for the queer community, we also believe that workers’ rights are human rights,” said Josue Arguelles, event organizer and member of Pride at Work. “We are inspired by Harvey Milk’s leadership in the Coors Beer boycott, knowing that our struggles for justice are inter-connected. Corporations and hotels that are not worker-friendly cannot claim to be queer-friendly.”
The LGBTQ community and Unite Here, the union that represents these hotel workers, have historically had close ties. Unite Here Local 2 has marched in the Pride parades for years, was a firm supporter of Harvey Milk’s candidacy, and has negotiated and instituted domestic partnership benefits in its contracts. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Local 2 established a fund to support its members who are HIV positive, helping them with medical treatment and even rent.
This protest in San Francisco follows multiple protests of Hyatt in San Diego, where the LGBT community teamed up with protesting workers after Manchester Grand Hyatt owner, Doug Manchester, donated $125,000 in support of efforts to pass Prop. 8. Hyatt markets itself as gay-friendly but never lifted a finger to chastise Manchester. In
Boston last year, when Hyatt fired 100 housekeepers and subcontracted their jobs, the LGBTQ community rallied in support of the workers, with key queer organizations, including the Pride organizing committee, refusing donations from Hyatt until the workers get their jobs back.
Ragina Johnson from the organization One Struggle One Fight sums up the feeling motivating these protests, “We see that our struggles are connected. There is a new generation of queer activists in the streets today. The word of the day is solidarity.”