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Recently, I was jogging near my dorm when I passed a group of people holding bunches of red helium balloons that read, “Boycott Hyatt.” Curious, I approached a protester and asked him why he wanted to boycott the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, a hotel next to Tang Hall patronized by MIT visitors, parents, and scientific meetings.

He told me that at the end of August, ninety-eight housekeepers had been fired from this Hyatt and from two other Hyatts in the Boston area (the Hyatt Regency Boston and the Hyatt Harborside at Logan International Airport).

I jogged on, and when I got back to my dorm room, I looked up “boycott Hyatt” on Google News. By all accounts, the Hyatt treated its staff abysmally. Some of the housekeepers had worked for Hyatt for over twenty years, yet they were given no advance notice that they were to be fired. The housekeepers claim that they were asked to train the workers who replaced them under the pretense that these workers would fill in for them when they were sick or on vacation. The housekeepers were originally paid $14–16 dollars per hour, with health benefits, while the staff who replaced them earn about $8 per hour, with no benefits.

“They kick us out without notice on our last day of work,” housekeeper Serandou Kamara told the New York Times. “The way they treat us was like animals.”

So far, Hyatt has done little to remedy the situation. The hotel chain has offered to employ the housekeepers at a staffing agency at their current rate of pay through the end of 2010 and continue their health care benefits through March 2010. Understandably, the housekeepers have not been enthusiastic about this offer ­— after all, at the end of a year they would likely only be able to find jobs for the kind of temporary agency that displaced them. “We will not accept temp positions that are designed to put others out of work,” fired housekeeper Lucine Williams, who worked for Hyatt for almost 22 years, told the Boston Globe. A number of organizations, businesses, and politicians, including Governor Deval Patrick, have called for a boycott of the Hyatt as a result of these layoffs.

If the MIT community joins the governor in boycotting the Hyatt, we may be able to have a real impact on this issue — MIT does a lot of business at the Hyatt Regency Cambridge. Plus, MIT has a hotel services partnership agreement with the Hyatt. Many conferences that are affiliated with MIT take place at or direct attendees to stay at the Hyatt, including the Alumni Leadership conference in September and the System Design and Management and iGEM conferences in October. The MIT Research and Development Conference, scheduled for November 17–18 and described on its website as a “flagship MIT conference,” has reserved a block of rooms for attendees at the Hyatt. A number of MIT conferences scheduled in 2010 have reserved rooms in or are taking place at the Hyatt as well. The location of the Hyatt is indicated on printed campus maps. During freshman parents’ weekend, many parents of freshmen stayed at the Hyatt. Parents of members of the senior class may soon consider making room reservations at the Hyatt in preparation for graduation.

However, it’s not enough to just avoid the Hyatt without letting them know why you will not do business with them. In order for a boycott to be effective, the Hyatt must know that you choose to avoid it because of how they have treated their workers. So, tell your parents not to stay there, schedule your conference elsewhere, direct your visitor to another hotel and write to the Hyatt to let them know why. You can let Hyatt know that you are disappointed by how they’ve treated their workers by signing the pledge at http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/hyatt100/pledge.php, and by writing to Michael Hickey, the General Manager of the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, at michael.hickey@hyatt.com.

Rachel Sealfon is a graduate student in Course VI.