Charlotte Knox was among the first wave of people hired to work at the downtown Baltimore Hyatt Regency hotel. After 30 years, she was glad to retire last year.
“When I came to work at the Hyatt, there were 400 plus employees, including managers and supervisors. Since then I have seen such a difference,” said Knox. "I have gone to my managers and human resources and asked why aren’t I making or more money or why am I being disrespected.”
Knox was able to retire after hip replacement surgery. But many of her co-workers weren’t as lucky, she said, noting that employees hired through temp agencies are forced to perform twice as much work as workers hired directly by the hotel—known as direct-hire employees– in a single shift. Direct-hire employees do around 18 rooms per shift. Temp employees are directed to clean 30 rooms per shift jumping five floors, said Knox. She said after their eight hour shifts, sometimes without breaks, many temps are told to clock out and clean more rooms.
The Baltimore native is among the huge number of laborers, labor advocates and union organizers who said recently they have had enough of unfair labor practices in Baltimore. Once a city regarded as a blue collar town, where a worker could easily provide a solid living for their family, Baltimore is on verge of labor strife and the new downtown casino may bear the brunt.
This weekend organized labor will be at the core of a rally, aimed at making sure legalized gambling does not lead to disorganized labor. On April 20, labor unions, advocacy groups and workers will gather where the new casino is being built downtown to argue that casino jobs won’t necessarily ensure regional economic stability.
“At the casino, are those jobs going to be good paying jobs or are they going to be poverty wage jobs,” said Tracy Lingo, lead organizer for UNITE HERE Local 7, a labor union representing hospitality, airport, food, textile and laundry workers. “This rally on fair development is calling on the casino to make sure that they hire local residents and make sure that they create good paying jobs.”
UNITE HERE has also been involved in the fair labor struggle with Baltimore’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. On March 14 Hyatt Regency workers and advocates gathered at City Hall to testify against Hyatt’s hiring practices, which they claim violate its direct-hire employment contract with the city.
During the economic flowering of the Inner Harbor in the 1980s under then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the Hyatt Regency Hotel received $20 million in city subsidies to help bring tourism to downtown Baltimore. The leasing agreement between the city of Baltimore and the Hyatt Regency Hotel states the hotel will directly hire all employees.
The bill, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, was passed unanimously by the council calling on the management for the Hyatt to honor its leasing agreement. If not, it called for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to enforce the agreement.
Gail Smith-Howard, general manager at the Hyatt, said the hotel meets all of the requirements of the leasing agreement and follows the practices of other hotels in Baltimore.
“We have a core group of employees we hire directly. We hire temps based on need. We don’t do anything differently than the other hotels in Baltimore,” said Smith-Howard who said there are between 215 and 225 full-time direct-hire employees currently working at the Hyatt. “We feel that we always follow the management agreement wholly. We feel we are aligned.”
Smith said the Hyatt only hires temporary employees based on large fluctuations in occupancy during conferences or special events at the hotel.
She said more than 67 percent of the Hyatt’s employees are residents of Baltimore and that the hotel has a very small employee turnover rate of 11 percent.
“We are committed to the city, to diversity and our employees,” said Smith-Howard adding that nine of their employees have been with the Hyatt since it first opened.
According the Knox, one-third of all of Hyatt’s employees are temps, excluding those commissioned for big events and banquets. Many of the temps have been working for the Hyatt full-time for nearly 10 years, making about $2 less an hour for the same work and receiving no benefits, Knox said.
“The Hyatt is bringing down the standards of jobs for many people. If you allow the company to treat people [temps] as less than us, then you make it okay for the company to later turn its back on us,” said Knox. “Temps are more vulnerable than us.”