At 5 p.m. outside the Grand Hyatt downtown, a tight group of Unite Here protesters discussed, shouted, and acted out their concerns over an issue they deem unjust: tip distribution in hotel chains along the River Walk, and the Grand Hyatt in particular. The Hyatt has been the subject of a long-running campaign to unionize the workforce and, most recently, subject of a global boycott.
Hyatt customers pay a 22 percent "service charge" for dinners at events, a fee that is functionally similar to a tip. Workers assert that this is a tip like any other and they should be able to claim it. "Mi TIA" — the Tip Integrity Act — would give this 22 percent charge back to the workers. Without this charge, they say, their pay is inadequate.
The battleground is on what constitutes a "tip."
Dylan Daney, a former banquet server turned organizer of Unite Here, says that managers acknowledge that what the workers are receiving is tips. "This problem extends to room servers, bartenders .. I'll walk out with $45 and [the management] will walk out with several hundred.
The campaign is about exposing this practice on the River Walk in general, not just at the Hyatt."
One worker in room service agreed. Flanked by lead organizer and translator Bethany Holmes, Maria Soto is now a member of Unite Here's organizing committee and wants an international boycott of every Hyatt, not just the Grand Hyatt. To her, the practices are particularly objectionable. "If a guest leaves a tip in our rooms, if they put it in our hands, we never get it. ... We have to look out for ourselves."
The Hyatt counters the additional banquet fee is used "to offset our associates' wages and benefits as well as other expenses associated with the large events," and that “contrary to union claims, our associates including our banquet staff are well compensated.” Banquet staff earn $16 per hour with the opportunity for additional income through overtime pay and increased benefits pay with longer tenure, the Hyatt's prepared statement reads.
Yet in the fight of "charge" vs. "tip," Daniel Ovalle from housekeeping remains pragmatic and hopeful about the effort for tip integrity. "If nothing else, [it's] to give workers a living wage."