March 7, 2012
“When I got to work that day, I heard a lot of laughter and jokes, including a manager that was around. When I got up close to look at what they were laughing at, what I saw were a bunch of pictures that were extremely humiliating and shameful. And I just felt so ashamed and humiliated as a woman that I got extremely upset and took down my picture and that of my sister.”
On Oct. 14, two weeks after Martha Reyes tore down the pictures, she and Lorena Reyes were fired from their positions as housekeepers at the Hyatt Santa Clara. Both have worked in hotels for more than two decades.
The pictures that started it all? Cartoon images of skinny white women wearing bikinis, with the faces of the hotel’s housekeepers tacked on.
“The pictures were pictures of women in bikinis with our faces pasted on. To be honest, for me as a woman it was—imagine, I’m a mom of five kids and nine grandkids. To be put in that kind of picture is extremely uncomfortable,” Martha told the Guardian.
When they were fired, the sisters were told that they were wasting company time by combining their ten-minute and lunch breaks. But the sisters believe that they were targeted after Martha tore down the pictures—and later, when confronted by a superior who demanded the images back, refused to return them.
As for the too-long lunch break claim: “We haven’t come across anyone else who’s been fired for it,” said Adam Zapala, an attorney with the firm Davis, Cowell, and Bowe, who is representing the sisters. “So it raises the suspicion in our mind.”
As we reported in November, the sisters have filed complaints against the hotel with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are asking for their jobs back and for back pay, saying they were wrongly terminated.
The complaints are specific to the Reyes’s case. On March 8, UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents Hyatt workers in several Bay Area hotels, will push back at Hyatt on a different level.
The group is planning an International Women’s Day protest at the Grand Hyatt in Union Square.
“On March 8, 1911, garment workers, all women, took to the streets demanding a 10 hr work day and an end to child labor. It was after that year that people started to celebrate March 8 as International Working Women’s Day. This action comes out of that tradition,” explains Julia Wong, an organizer with UNITE HERE.
International Women’s Day no longer specifically honors workers. But the bikini pictures bring up an issue that affects all women; sexual objectification. “It’s making fun of what women’s bodies look like, sexualizing them, in an industry where its not safe to be sexualizing housekeepers,” said Wong, referring to widespread sexual harassment of hotel housekeepers. The extent of this issue was revealed to a degree last year in the aftermath of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.
“It’s really a fight for women’s rights in the workplace,” said Wong.
If you are interested, please help by signing this petition at: http://sumofus.org/campaigns/hyatt/?sub=taf
Martha Reyes walked in the employee entrance of the Santa Clara Hyatt Regency to the sound of her male colleagues laughing.
She believed they were laughing at her.
It was “Housekeeping Appreciation Week” at the Hyatt and to celebrate, a digitally altered photo collage of Hyatt Housekeepers’ faces — including Martha’s and her sister Lorena’s — superimposed on bikini-clad cartoon-bodies was posted on a bulletin board at work.
She felt humiliated and embarrassed. But she knew her sister Lorena — also a housekeeper at Hyatt — would be even more so. Martha tore the posters of her and her sister down.Then, with management present, a coworker told Martha she needed to return the photos.
She refused and said if they wanted it back, they’d have to take her to court.
Hyatt management fired Martha and Lorena just a few weeks later.
Sign our petition to Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian asking him to apologize to Martha and Lorena and reinstate them with full back-pay. The Reyes sisters and community allies will deliver it next week to Hyatt officials.
They were fired for allegedly taking too long on their lunch break. But we don’t buy that excuse for a second. Here’s why:
Martha and Lorena worked at that hotel as housekeepers for 7 and 24 years respectively. During that time, the Reyes sisters were good employees. On the day she was fired, the HR Director told Martha she was an “excellent worker” and that there hadn’t been any complaints about her. Before the day Lorena was fired, she had never in her 24 years been written up for a single break violation.
The firing of the Reyes sisters is a new low, even for Hyatt.
What happened to the Reyes sisters is just another example of Hyatt’s culture of disrespect for its workers: Hyatt housekeepers have high rates of injury, and in 2011 various state and federal agencies issued 18 citations against Hyatt for alleged safety violations. Hyatt has even lobbied against new laws that would make housekeeping work safer.
Martha is the mother of five children and fears she may lose her house. Lorena is a mother of three and is struggling as the sole supporter of her family. As long-time employees of Hyatt, the Reyes sisters deserve some basic decency and the right to complain about their workplace without being fired.
As potential Hyatt customers, we have to draw the line. Sexually degrading housekeeping staff is unacceptable by any measure and the CEO of should take responsibility for Hyatt’s culture of disrespect for its workers now.
With May Day just passed — a day when people all over the world pause to acknowledge the work of people like Martha and Lorena — we at SumOfUs.org are humbled by workers like the Reyes sisters who dare to stand up for their rights. We are proud to stand with them, and join our partners at UNITE-HERE, in demanding justice for the two sisters.