A convention of several thousand religious scholars was scheduled to meet in downtown Chicago the weekend before Thanksgiving. When a few of the scholars found out they would have to cross a picket line to attend, they began organizing to support Hyatt workers and the Hyatt boycott. As a result, hundreds of religious scholars took action online, lobbied their organizations to move the event, and invited workers to speak to the Boards of Directors of their organizations.
The joint meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Academy of Religion (AAR) was held at the McCormick Place Convention Center, drawing more than 10,000 religious scholars to Chicago. In honor of the worker-called national Hyatt boycott, religious scholars successfully fought to move all sessions from the boycotted Hyatt McCormick and signed a petition pledging not to stay, enter, or spend money at the Hyatt hotels in Chicago. The decision to avoid the Hyatt hotels was made based on teachings found in religious texts.
Some religious scholars attending the event went to extraordinary lengths to honor the boycott. The only non-boycotted hotels were almost two miles away from the conference center. This meant observant Jews would have to walk to the conference early Saturday morning, since they cannot take transportation on the Sabbath. So religious scholars and Hyatt workers organized a “Solidarity Walk” to let them know they were not alone and to show their appreciation for their commitment to honoring the boycott.
Some scholars were also worried about the crushing workloads. Carolyn Roncolato, a graduate student at Chicago Theological Seminary and AAR member, explained to the New York Times:
“The Hyatt does routinely unjust things. They won’t give them fitted sheets for the bed, so they have to life to 100-pound mattresses up and fold sheets under. I understand it to be an ethical issue, an issue of justice, an issue of civic engagement.”
During the convention weekend, Roncolato and other supporters suggested that AAR members attend an American Academy of Religion business meeting on Sunday morning, where a pro-labor resolution was proposed. The resolution, which passed, proposed that clauses in future hotel and convention contracts allow the organization to be released from contractual obligations without penalty if there is a labor dispute at the hotel or convention.
Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry. They have eliminated jobs, replaced career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers, and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remain. Hyatt has refused to remain neutral as non-union hotel workers organize. In Chicago, they are unique in their refusal to adopt the fair contract that the other hotels in the city have adopted.
“The Gospels are very clear that the Christian call is to stand on the side of the marginalized, and in that case it’s very clear that’s the hotel workers,” Roncolato said. “So the idea that as academics we would ignore the people around us while we talk is hypocritical.”
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