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Patrick ‘troubled’ by Hyatt

Governor asks CEO to rethink cuts to housekeeping staff

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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Governor Deval Patrick weighed in on the abrupt firing of 100 housekeepers at the three Boston-area Hyatts, calling the Chicago-based hotel chain’s chief executive, Mark Hoplamazian, to ask him to reconsider the decision to outsource the work.

“I’m troubled by it,’’ Patrick said in a phone interview with the Globe yesterday. “I can see that there are good people who had a job one day and don’t the next and who seem to have been replaced by people who are just going to be paid a lot less. At a time when the economy doesn’t make for a lot of other options for people, it’s doubly troubling.’’

Hyatt Hotels Corp. laid off the entire housekeeping staffs at the Hyatt Regency Boston, Hyatt Regency Cambridge, and Hyatt Harborside Hotel at Logan International Airport after the morning shift had ended on Aug. 31, citing challenging economic conditions. The chain immediately replaced the housekeepers with workers from an external staffing firm. The dismissed housekeepers were making upward of $15 an hour; their replacements are reportedly earning about half that.

Hundreds of hotel workers and their supporters gathered in front of the Hyatt Regency Boston Thursday evening to protest the firings, and several politicians, including US Representative Michael Capuano, called for a boycott of the hotel chain.

Patrick did not go that far, but said he was concerned about how the firings were handled. “I asked [Hoplamazian] directly whether this was a decision he was willing to reconsider, and I asked him to help me understand his reasoning,’’ said Patrick. “It’s everybody’s worst nightmare at a time like this in the economy, that the rug is just snatched out from under them.’’

Hyatt in a statement to the Globe reiterated it was a “difficult decision’’ to outsource its housekeeping, but the company has treated the affected employees “with fairness and dignity.’’

The hotel said in Boston it has been working for more than three years with Hospitality Staffing Solutions, the Georgia firm that is now doing all of the housekeeping in Boston-area Hyatts. When the hotel eliminated its housekeeping units, about half of the housekeepers at two of the three local Hyatts were Hospitality Staffing employees, Hyatt said. Some housekeepers told the Globe they had been asked to train outside workers whom they believed were fill-ins for vacations, but those workers ended up replacing the staff.

“The transition to contract housekeeping services was not sudden and secretive,’’ the Hyatt statement said.

Hyatt also said outsourcing housekeeping was one of many cuts the chain has made to offset the sharp drop in revenue. The chain has eliminated some management positions at the Boston-area Hyatts, reduced staff in other departments, and made cuts in sales, marketing, and administrative budgets.

But the Hyatt’s decision to outsource its entire housekeeping staff appears to be unusual because housekeeping is such a vital part of the customer experience. Other hotels, including Hilton and Marriott, said they have not outsourced their housekeepers and have no plans to do so.

Hyatt said it is “confident’’ Hospitality Staffing can provide “Hyatt-quality housekeeping services.’’

Patrick said he and Hyatt chief Hoplamazian plan to speak again over the weekend or on Monday morning. “At a minimum we ought to be talking about how to make as soft a landing as possible for people,’’ Patrick said, “and he did seem to be open to that.’’

Hyatt has provided severance and other assistance to laid-off workers, including inviting them to apply for other positions at their hotels.

The state’s Rapid Response team, part of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, met with workers from the Logan Hyatt to give them information about unemployment assistance and health insurance. The team only recently learned about the firings at the other two hotels and hopes to meet with them soon.

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at johnstonchase@globe.com