Jun 20, 2012 - 12:11pm

An Unholy Alliance? OSHA and UNITE-HERE Ramp Up Pressure on Hyatt

Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division


As part of their pressure campaigns to unionize workplaces, a frequent union tactic is filing repeated complaints with government enforcement agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Wage and Hour Division, both part of the U.S. Department of Labor.  These complaints are often frivolous, and constitute an effort by the union to distract an employer’s attention, force them to expend resources defending themselves against the complaints, and ultimately accede to union demands in the hopes of putting an end to repeated government investigations. 

This tactic has been on full display in UNITE-HERE’s long-running campaign to organize several Hyatt Hotels properties.  On November 8, 2010, with great fanfare, UNITE-HERE filed complaints with OSHA covering 12 Hyatt properties across eight statesThe complaints dealt specifically with alleged ergonomic issues, and, according to the union, constituted the first multicity complaint ever filed in the private sector with OSHA.

OSHA investigated, launching multiple, separate hotel inspections.  The investigations included videotaping housekeepers at work, interviewing employees, and reviewing thousands of documents and medical records.  The result?  Not a single citation was issued regarding any of the ergonomic allegations filed by UNITE-HERE.  Nonetheless, OSHA decided to present Hyatt with an official “hazard alert letter”  (a precursor to additional inspections), thus giving the union additional material for its public relations campaign against the company.

To allay any concerns OSHA had about workplace safety, Hyatt offered to enter a formal Alliance with the agency.  OSHA’s Alliance program, started in 2004, serves as a means for parties to participate in a voluntary cooperative relationship with the agency for purposes such as training and education, outreach and communication and promoting the national dialogue on workplace safety and health.  OSHA responded that it was “happy to discuss the possibility,” but that any Alliance would have to include “employee representatives, such as UNITE-HERE.”  Under OSHA guidelines an Alliance partnership must include worker representatives of some kind, but the recommendation of UNITE-HERE seemed a rather direct suggestion given the circumstances.  On May 31, 2012, Hyatt responded to OSHA writing that: “By indicating that any cooperative endeavor with OSHA would ‘require’ the union’s involvement, OSHA again has aligned itself with the Union[.]”

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline raised similar concerns about OSHA collaborating with UNITE-HERE in a July 2011 letter to the agency, writing:  “These multiple, redundant inspections are exceptionally troubling in light of OSHA’s stated policy not to involve the nation’s safety agency in ongoing labor disputes.”
It’s bad enough that OSHA spent so much time and taxpayer money responding to baseless union complaints.  But it’s even worse that the agency is giving the appearance of acting as UNITE-HERE’s ally in its organizing campaign.

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About the Author

Glenn Spencer Headshot
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president of the Employment Policy division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.