July 22, 2011 / 4:35 PM / 7 years ago

Hyatt apologizes for turning heatlamps on strikers

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hyatt hotels apologized Friday for an incident in which heat lamps were turned on above workers on strike at a Chicago hotel, when the heat index was already 90 degrees.

“Hyatt regrets the events that occurred at Park Hyatt Chicago and apologizes to everyone who was impacted by them,” the Chicago-based hotel company said in a statement.

Workers started gathering for the daylong strike at about 5 a.m. Thursday morning. At 7 a.m., heat lamps intended to warm the front entrance of the hotel during winter were switched on and remained on for about an hour, said Annemarie Strassel, spokeswoman for United Here Local 1, which represents the hotel workers.

“We immediately started sweating,” said Gabriel Carrasquillo, 48, a restaurant server at the hotel who participated in the strike. “It got hot really fast.”

He said about 25 workers were picketing where the heat lamps are — a total of 70 were around the building. He said workers responded to the heat lamps by chanting “Do what you want, we’re not leaving,” and “You can’t smoke us out.”

The workers have been without a contract for almost two years, Strassel said. Two issues holding up negotiations are working conditions for housekeepers and the company’s replacement of long-term employees with temporary workers at lower rates of pay.

Hyatt said that the decision to turn on the heaters was made by a manager. “It was clearly a decision that was not in line with our values or with our corporate policies,” the statement said. Hyatt said this was an “isolated incident” and would not be repeated.

The manager responsible for the decision was scheduled to retire, and Friday was to be his last day, said Farley Kern, vice president of corporate communications, in a e-mail. “If that hadn’t been the case, we would have taken corrective action matching the seriousness of the conduct,” Kern wrote.

The temperature at 7 a.m. in Chicago Thursday was 83 degrees, with a heat index of 90, according to the National Weather Service.

Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune

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