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Council committee approves resolution on Hyatt staffing

The Baltimore City Council Labor Committee voted Thursday evening in favor of a resolution urging the Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel to stop hiring contracted workers through staffing companies and to sign a “labor peace” agreement with employees that says the hotel will not interfere with unionization efforts.

All three committee members present at the hearing approved moving the resolution to a full council vote at the next meeting on Monday.

Although using contractors is common in the hospitality industry, the practice is prohibited at the Hyatt Regency by a contract signed with the city in 1979, when the hotel was built on city-owned land. In an effort to increase steady employment opportunities for residents, many of whom were reeling from the loss of manufacturing jobs, the contract stated that all work must be given to permanent employees, not temporary workers.

Hyatt management was not present at the hearing, but Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who authored the resolution, said she wasn’t surprised. Hyatt officials could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

“[The Hyatt] seems to be more than aware of the resolution and the hearing,” Clarke said. “So they may have just decided to reread their agreements with the city and spend their time that way, which would be fine with me.”

Unite Here Local 7, the union representing Baltimore hospitality workers, spearheaded an effort to have employees testify, including Michael Jones, 37, a dishwasher, who said he frequently works alongside contracted workers, and that those workers sometimes do jobs that were previously full-time, permanent positions.

In an interview Wednesday, Jones also said he felt he had been unfairly fired for a minor offense as retaliation for his intent to unionize. In January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the hotel on workers’ behalf. The Hyatt was not convicted; the company settled with workers out of court.

If passed, the resolution would not be binding, but several council members said they think it will send a strong message to hotel managers about their expectation that workers be allowed to organize.

In 1979, the city helped pay for the hotel’s construction, so the contract also established a profit-sharing agreement between the city and Hyatt Hotels Corp. as a form of payback. Because the hotel is a direct revenue source for the city, as well as a component of the tourism industry with the capacity to put residents to work, Clarke said Baltimore has a multi-pronged financial interest at stake.

“When you have a proprietary interest like this, that’s what you have to focus on,” Clarke said in an interview last week. “We can ask all the hotels to engage in labor peace agreements … but in the case of the Hyatt, we can’t be having disruption or worker discord among workers who are trying to legitimately organize to form a union.”