Author Jim Lair Beard is a restaurant server who works at the Andaz Hyatt hotel in West Hollywood, California. He is a union member and belongs to UNITE HERE Local 11. A slightly different version of this post appeared yesterday on Frying Pan News.
Am I allowed to write this? Is it against company rules? Before I tell you why I ask, let me explain a little about myself.
I’m a split personality of sorts. I’m a diligent employee. I’m always punctual in the RH restaurant where I work as a server at the Hyatt Andaz on Sunset in West Hollywood. I can describe every dish in detail. I enjoy getting to know my guests. I smile. I’m warm. I go above and beyond to offer them a great experience. I have many return guests. Some of them even bring me bottles of wine. I’ll refer to this first character as my "A" personality.
My "B" personality exists outside of the confines of Hyatt. Here are a few character identifiers: He’s a passionate union activist for UNITE HERE Local 11. He shows up extra early to the many rallies, strikes and pickets that are held outside of his place of employment. He uses bullhorns on guests to alert them to the ongoing boycott. He hands them leaflets. He’s stern. He’s serious. He wants them to hear both sides of the story.
A big part of Personality B’s life exists in front of a computer at home, reporting about workplace conditions. Personality B is a blogger and a labor writer.
It might be obvious, but Hyatt doesn’t care for Personality B all that much, or any employee who chooses to blog about Hyatt in a less than happy way. So is what I’m doing breaking their rules?
Avoid commenting on Hyatt or any Hyatt location…Hyatt may request that you temporarily confine your use of social media to matters unrelated to Hyatt if it determines this is necessary or advisable to ensure compliance with applicable laws or Hyatt policies.
This is according to the Hyatt handbook on social media policy dated from November 1, 2010. A more specific policy on blogging from 2008 even carries a veiled threat:
These guidelines apply even if an associate’s blog is anonymous or under another name. If an associate engages in such blogging, they should be aware that in appropriate circumstances Hyatt will take steps to determine their identity.
Luckily for me I don’t need to worry about having my identity uncovered, but I do worry about my fellow coworkers and others around the country who may second-guess their decisions to speak up about workplace injustices, because Hyatt might decide to “out” them.
One big story in the news lately has been about employers asking for applicants’ Facebook passwords during the interview process of landing a job. Geez, first they want your urine, now they want your Facebook password? Perhaps next time I apply for a job I should have my diary and a vial of blood ready to go just in case. 1984 has come and gone but it seems that the Orwellian world is here to stay -- except in my microcosmic world Big Brother is a company called Hyatt.
Last month, in a captive-audience meeting that seemed to me to be designed to slam my union without union representatives present, the general manager gave a PowerPoint presentation denouncing UNITE HERE Local 11. These types of meetings have historically been used to bust unions and get the employees to drink their employer’s propaganda in a setting where management claims can’t be rebutted. But while the captive meeting progressed, I noticed something . . .
The phrase “Refuses to pay workers what they’re worth” appeared on the huge screen for all to see. Our captive-audience meeting took place on February 17. An article that I had published for Truthdig appeared two days before -- with the exact same phrase. I’m not dumb and I’m not paranoid. Sure seems like a subtle clue that I was being watched. My only regret was that the GM didn’t give me proper credit for such a brilliant turn of phrase. Maybe next time he’ll link to my articles?
Hyatt has plunged itself into the national debate regarding overly broad corporate social media policies. Its policy is so disconcerting that the National Labor Relations Board’s General Counsel filed a national complaint to be heard in May. It’s clear to me that this is a free speech issue. Maybe the ACLU should get involved too.
A few folks -- including my own wife -- have asked me how I can get away with writing about Hyatt. The answer is current labor law and a good union attorney whom I am forever indebted to.
Maybe the bigger lesson in all of this is that if you want to have real free speech rights then join a union or push for labor organizing as a civil right. It seems only fair that if government cannot punish you for criticizing its officials, then the corporate officials who govern the workplace ought to be able to take a little criticism without throwing you out on the street.
And if Hyatt chooses to go the darker route of some of these other companies, and begins to ask for worker passwords to their Facebook accounts, I might be willing to agree to that -- if the CEO and the owners of the Hyatt cough up the passwords to all of their email and social media accounts. They should lay before us everything they communicate about on a day-to-day basis.