Hotel Union Protests Obama Commerce Nominee

Photograph by Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

A taxi leaves the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel.

Updated 3:20 p.m. EST

Hotel and restaurant union workers plan to protest President Barack Obama’s pick of billionaire Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker to lead the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst hotel employer in the United States, leading the industry in outsourcing practices that destroy good jobs and hurt housekeepers,” UNITE HERE said today in a statement. The labor group has about 250,000 members.

For years, working conditions have prompted labor strikes and boycotts of Hyatt Hotel Corp., based in Chicago — also Obama’s home before he was elected president in 2008.

UNITE is a member of the umbrella labor organization AFL-CIO, which has documented labor problems at the hotel chain in years past.  AFL-CIO spokesman  Jeff Hauser declined to comment on UNITE’s protest of Pritzker when reached this afternoon.

Hotel workers affiliated with UNITE plan to gather today from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Chicago time at the Hyatt McCormick Place. Organizers say they expect about 1,000 protesters. The New York Daily News first reported plans for the rally earlier today.

“Under Pritzker’s direction, Hyatt has led the hotel industry in a race to the bottom by aggressively subcontracting out career hotel jobs to minimum wage temps,” Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper and advocate for electing  a hotel worker to Hyatt’s board of directors, said in UNITE’s statement today. “This is not the model that will lead our country to a bright economic future.”

The rally comes as Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin this week. Top Republicans told Bloomberg News they plan to ask tough questions of the billionaire heiress based on her disclosure of income from a trust in the Bahamas. Obama derided his 2012 Republican challenger Mitt Romney for having offshore accounts.

“It isn’t just about her or the offshore stuff, it’s about the fact that the president made a big deal out of Romney’s offshore accounts,” Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in an interview with Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan.

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