November 17, 2009 / 2:33 AM / 10 years ago

Hyatt says 6 of 98 fired Boston workers accept plan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Just six of the 98 Boston housekeepers sacked by Hyatt Hotels Corp in August have taken up its offer of alternative employment, and few have responded to overtures by phone or mail, a Hyatt manager said.

“We’ve made countless attempts” to contact workers, Philip Stamm, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Boston and head of Hyatt’s task force on the matter, said in an interview Monday.

“We’re under the impression that they’re being misinformed,” Stamm said. “They’re just rejecting these offers without having an opportunity to evaluate them.”

The issue has sparked an uproar among hotel workers nationwide and prompted the governor of Massachusetts to threaten a boycott of the company.

The lack of interest, which Stamm described as “disheartening,” has dealt a blow to Hyatt’s attempt to address what has been a public relations nightmare.

Stamm said the layoffs were made to protect the viability of Hyatt’s three Boston hotels amid the economic downturn.

Hyatt offered the housekeepers new jobs with affiliate United Services Cos and said it would match their previous rate of pay through 2010. The company said it would extend healthcare coverage through March 2010.

Six former housekeepers now work for United Services and another 16 have found other work, Stamm said. He said Hyatt’s offer is “very generous” given the bleak economic backdrop.

“Hyatt, I think, is playing games because they think we’re stupid,” said Luz Aquino, who was a housekeeper at the Hyatt Harborside. She added that the company’s offer was not attractive — offering no benefits after March, or vacation.

Aquino pointed to Monday’s Boston Globe column by Kevin Cullen focusing on one housekeeper who learned that her son’s hospital visits would no longer be covered by her insurer.

Hyatt spokeswoman Farley Kern said that was a mistake by the insurance provider. She said those claims would now be covered in full.

Hotel union Unite Here has taken up the cause of the housekeepers, who are not in a union, with vigils and rallies in a dozen cities in recent weeks.

On Monday, Unite Here Local 1, a Chicago hotel workers union, staged a rally in front of the Park Hyatt in Chicago, where the hotel company is headquartered.

“Hotel companies are using the economy as an excuse to squeeze workers,” said Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel. “At this point, Hyatt is the starkest example.”

Part of the outrage stems from Hyatt’s recent initial public offering. To lure investors, Hyatt touted its strong balance sheet, with more than five times the combined cash of its two rivals, Marriott International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Given that statistic, hotel workers have difficulty understanding Hyatt’s decision to cut jobs, Strassel said.

Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Gary Hill

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