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Hyatt Boycott Doesn’t Stop Yoga Journal SF Conference, Should Yogis Rally?

in Business of Yoga, YD News

image: IAYB

An uprising is afoot over Yoga Journal holding their San Francisco conference at the Hyatt Regency despite a years-long union activists’ boycott “demanding fair treatment of hotel workers, higher wages, better benefits, safer workloads, and the right to unionize freely.” The boycott launched in June 2010 has made little progress with Yoga Journal who holds their annual conferences at Hyatt properties and has no intention of changing. Should the yoga community stand up and say something?

Roseanne at It’s All Yoga, Baby has been banging her pots and pans about it since this past July. She recently poke with UniteHere, the union body representing the workers:

“We’ve sent letters, emails and made phone calls, as we do to lots of Hyatt customers,” Unite Here organizer Powell DeGange told IAYB via Skype. “The leadership of Yoga Journal decided not to listen to the call of the workers and they continued their relationship with the Hyatt, so they went ahead with their 2011, 2012 and now 2013 conferences.”

Flyers have been passed around to SF yoga studios urging the yoga community to support the workers. “We are the Women of Hyatt and we’re ready to take back our bodies,” the flyers declare.

And yet there has been little to no support. Then it comes down to the bottom line. Is it all about the money?

Ultimately, the Hyatt and Yoga Journal have similar goals and interests. “Hyatt cares about the money. That’s all that this is. When companies like Yoga Journal keep doing business with them the corporation has no incentive to listen to the Delia, or the Nelia, or the Cynthia, or listen to Rose, who are all workers at the Hyatt Regency.

“We’re really asking that the community of people who do business with the Hyatt – including Yoga Journal – respond to this. We’re not just asking for general help and support. We’re asking people to not write Hyatt a check. Don’t do business with the Hyatt. That’s the best thing anyone can do.”

Finally, after a ruckus was already rumbling, Dayna Macy, the Communications Director of Yoga Journal made a statement via the comments section at IAYB, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and offering their reasons for continuing to work with the Hyatt,

Yoga Journal will hold its annual San Francisco Conference January 17-21, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero. There is an ongoing labor management dispute between the Hyatt Corporation and UniteHere. The hotel and its workers have reached agreements on wages and benefits but other issues including union membership voting rules across the Hyatt hotel chain remain unresolved.

The workers at the Hyatt are not on strike, but UniteHere has reached out to many organizations holding events at the hotel and urged them to change their plans.

Yoga Journal has not ignored this issue. We have thought carefully about it and have decided to honor our longstanding contract and the commitments we’ve made to our conference presenters and attendees, as well as the workers at this specific hotel who depend on business for their livelihood.

Yoga Journal fully supports the negotiations between the Hyatt and its unions and hopes that the remaining issues are resolved fairly and quickly.

For more information:

The Hyatt Corporation Website: hyattworkplace.com
The UniteHere website:unitehere11.org andhotelworkersrising.com

But is that good enough? Should the yoga community rise up and rally for the welfare of the workers? IYAB and many commenters/yogactivists think so. But not all. One disagreeing reader, Eric Walrabenstein of WarRetreat.org, shared his argument for staying out of the mess:

Dear Yoga Friends,

Let me start out by saying that I do in fact care about the disenfranchised. I do work to see a more just and compassionate world. And if I were in charge of the Yoga Journal conference, I would very likely change venues in support of those who are seeking a fair shake from the global giant Hyatt.

And thus, I stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are voicing their disappointment in Yoga Journal for deciding to hold their conference at the San Francisco Hyatt.

But I do so in the name of this opinionated and imperfect character Eric Walrabenstein—not in the name of yoga. Certainly not.

To voice our outrage about Yoga Journal’s decision to on the basis of yoga—or their affiliation with it—is to, frankly, not understand the purpose, or practice, of yoga. And quite colossally so.

Here’s the thing:

-Yoga is not about standing up for what’s right, while going to war with what’s wrong.
It’s about transcending right and wrong all together.

-Yoga is not about aligning ourselves with those who do good and against those who do not.
It’s about being liberated from the self all together.

-Yoga is not about standing up and fixing the problems of the world.
It’s about sitting down and seeing the innate perfection that has always already been.

This war against reality is the ego’s game, not yoga’s—and certainly not your truest self’s.

So, by all means stand up for the causes that you believe in: Rail against injustice, fight for the disenfranchised, champion the good and assault the bad. It is your right, and some would argue your responsibility, to make this world a better place in which to live.

But please don’t drag yoga into your war against God’s perfection.

Yoga is about creating unconditional stillness; yoga is about accessing the perfection of what is; yoga is about recognizing who you truly are—beyond the one filled with outrage and self-righteousness.

If you wish to truly do something in the name of yoga, sit, breathe, and smile.

Love & blessings…
E

P.S. I have no doubt that this idea will ruffle a great many feathers; particularly those of the spiritualized, feel-good crowd who confuse temporarily satiated egos for some sort of spiritual progress. I understand. I get pissed at things too, whilst trying to remind myself that this too is part of the inherent perfection of what is.

In a time when yogactivists are honing their voices and speaking more loudly about disservices in the world (ie Occupy Wall Street, sex trafficking) and offering yoga in political spheres (see Seane Corn, Off the Mat, honorary teacher Russell Simmons, Bikram) and others take sides endorsing a candidate the question is, where does it stop? Should it stop? What’s a yogi to do?

We invite your opinions and discussions.

——

Earlier

14 comments… add one

  • TK

    Yoga Journal is not above “Bad Press”…They are Bad Press.

  • ar y

    good one. YJ is so bad

  • Elizabeth

    Hm. I won’t be in town, but would love to see some sitting meditation yogis and yoginis holding signs that say “Unite Here.”

  • James

    While the condescendingly pedantic purveyor of Love & blessings quoted above is busy transcending and liberating himself in the unsullied name of God’s perfection, there is plenty of opportunity for modern yoga practitioners who recognize that theirs is a diverse and dynamic tradition to take a principled stand. Don’t let yourself be shamed by those who preach the spiritual bypass. Yoga is for this world not some fantasy land. Help others if you can. Yoga Journal will get the message if their customers deliver it.

  • Amanda

    Honestly, I think these activists seem a little crazy. I walked past the protests outside the Hyatt every day on my way to work, and you could not understand a word they were saying. They kept marching in circles but I don’t think they really made their point very clear. I was really looking, trying to figure it out, but I could not for the life of me tell what they were actually protesting. They used blanket statements like “we’re ready to take back our bodies” but it’s unclear what that has to do with anything. If they want to be taken seriously, maybe they should state the facts. What is Hyatt doing that other hotels are not doing? What do they recommend? What would they like others to do about it? Boycotting a hotel chain as large as the Hyatt isn’t going to happen. What’s a more realistic solution?

  • Yogini Lawyer

    I am an employment lawyer. I work for a large government agency representing management in disputes with unions. My husband is in the train engineers’ union, so a good chunk of our income is tied to union membership.

    Here are my thoughts:

    The hotel workers are not on strike. They are still going to work. They are negotiating a new contract. They have agreed on wages and benefits, but not on other issues like membership and voting. It doesn’t sound like working conditions and hours are in dispute.

    Tension between management and unions is par for the course during labor negotiations.

    It is the job of the union organizers to get the best possible contract for the union members. This is often not done through blowhard tactics such as embellishing and sensationalizing issues and playing up irrelevant issues to “emotionalize” the dispute. “We are the Women of Hyatt and we’re ready to take back our bodies,” is a perfect example of these tactics. They are effective because they get people’s attention. It is part of the dance.

    If Yoga Journal and other organizations stop hosting their events at the Hyatt, the Hyatt will lose a lot of money and that could result in layoffs.

    Until we have more information about what is dispute in the negotiations, we can’t really say that the Hyatt is at fault.

    As much as I am not a lover of Yoga Journal, I think its approach is reasonable.

  • TK

    Having worked for the Harrah’s Hotel Brand, I saw first hand the abuses that hotel cleaning staff was subject to. Maria and Pancho were vastly underpaid for the labor they put in each and every day. Management would busy themselves with important meetings where they would reiterate the importance of letting the staff know that” management was better than staff”. Direct quote. Hmmm So you are saying wait…until when? After the Yoga Journal circle jerk? NOW IS THE TIME …Not next week, not after the proverbial picking season is over. That’s the same horse shit that growers used to use against migrant workers in California’s orchards. Now it has transferred into the posh setting of SF. I say screw Hyatt, Yoga Journal, and any yoga teacher who decides to receive any monies from this event. While the actions of YJ and Hyatt might be perfectly legal, they are certainly morally wanting.

  • Yogini Lawyer

    TK,

    I think your response is based on emotion and your personal experience working at a different hotel chain. These workers are organized and represented by a union that NEGOTIATES ON THEIR BEHALF FOR THEIR WAGES AND WORKING CONDITIONS. The workers you describe do not sound like they were represented and were possibly working under the table.

    If it is true that there is no strike (picket line does not necessarily mean strike because workers are free to go to work and picket during their off hours) and that wages and benefits have been agreed upon in the contract negotiations, then I can only come to the conclusion that the union representing the hotel workers has decided that the wages and benefits are sufficient at this time. What are these mystery issues that need to be resolved? If it’s workplace safety, healthcare, etc., why not just come right out and say it? Why insinuate that there is something bad going on? If you want our support and YJ’s support, just say what it is! It is a part of every union’s mission statement to “demand[ing] fair treatment of [hotel]workers, higher wages, better benefits, safer workloads, and the right to unionize freely.” That is what unions do. That is their sole purpose. So, I don’t personally consider this statement to be an indictment of the Hyatt.

    Labor relations and negotiations are not for the faint of heart. In a lot of cases, both sides do shady things to advance their positions.

    Labor relations are a fact of life. If we boycotted every time there was a labor dispute, the world would stop.

    We need more information. To blindly jump into the middle of a labor dispute without more concrete information is political and unyogic.

  • TK

    Well, you dont actually believe that these disputes are a one-fer, do ya?…Wait a minute. One fer is not a word, neither is unyogic. What I know is that while labor disputes are a fact of life, so is poverty. As a lawyer, dont tell me that there is fair and equitable treatment of minority labor when it comes to the service sector. Don’t do it! It would be disingenuous and ignorant. The produce you eat is picked by underpaid migrant laborers who toil so you can enjoy your cobb salad. Please don’t feel bad about your cobb salad, just don’t pretend that that produce magically appeared in the kitchen. You bet your ass emotion plays a role here. You are an attorney. Are you also devoid of human empathy?

  • Yogini Lawyer

    I don’t eat cobb salads. I don’t know what a one-fer is. I am not devoid of empathy. I care a lot about poverty, disenfranchisement, and the imbalance of power. I know that there are serious labor violations in this country, and that the undocumented population, which tends to be minority groups, is disproportionately affected by this. However, THESE EMPLOYEES ARE REPRESENTED BY A LABOR UNION. Why would you lump these employees in with UNREPRESENTED migrant field workers who pick lettuce? Is the answer because they have brown skin? To me, it’s apples and oranges.

    I guess what you are saying is that Unite Here is not able to effectively represent and protect its members. I guess you are also saying that these workers are powerless even though they are part of a collective bargaining unit.

    I live 30 minutes from the conference, but I will not attend it. Not because of a labor dispute, but because I don’t like large conference events and I don’t like YJ.

    If I had some information about the particular injustices at issue, then I could make an informed decision and I could choose to support one side or the other. That information hasn’t been provided. I’m assuming YJ doesn’t have that information either. So, at this time, based on the limited information, I still say YJ’s approach is reasonable.

  • Hi Yogini Lawyer ~ Great questions, and it’s awesome to see someone with your background and expertise getting involved in this conversation. You’re correct, the workers at the Hyatt Regency aren’t on strike – but they have been holding regular actions and informal picket lines at the Hyatt.

    Here is more information on the global Hyatt Boycott: http://www.hyatthurts.org/about-the-boycott/

    UniteHere clearly states their demands:
    - End the abuse of housekeepers and adopt the recommendations made by the federal government to reduce the physical strain associated with housekeeping work (as outlined letter sent to Hyatt by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in April 2012).
    - Agree to a fair and neutral process for non-union workers to organize.
    - Agree to a fair contract with its unionized hotel workers, thousands of whom have been without a contract for nearly three years.

    The Online News Association (who held their 2012 conference at the SF Hyatt Regency and decided to not break their contract) wrote up a great FAQ with more info: http://ona12.journalists.org/faq-labor-management-dispute/

    It’s definitely a complex issue and it’s important that we ask more questions.

  • Honomann

    Yoga Journal has been selling out yoga for about a decade. Why would supporting an exploitive hotel be any surprise?

  • Short answer, yes. Yoga is about living rightly in the world. This should be addressed head on.

  • TK

    Hyatt would have you believe that this is an isolated incident…ya know..divide and conquer. The labor union is trying to negotiate with a slippery octopus. Yoga Journal will do what they do but it only confirms the veil of ignorance that they sell to their demographic. Brown people being marginalized? never heard of such a thing…
    “Gambling in Rick’s? ”
    “Here are your winnings Sir”

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