Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making Money or being a decent person?

Citing hard economic times, three Hyatt hotels in the Boston area fired about 100 housekeepers. These women who make the beds, clean the bathrooms and make sure that new guests will find their hotel rooms immaculate, had been working for Hyatt for 20 or more years. They earned $ 15.00 an hour, had health insurance and a 401k plan. (Their annual pay came to about $30,000.00 a year--not a lot of money if you live in a high rent, large city). Hyatt outsourced these housekeeping jobs to a firm that pays its employees $ 8.00 an hour and gives no benefits. By firing long term employees who, by all accounts, had done very good work, Hyatt halved its wage bill for housekeeping.
There has been a great outcry over the treatment of these long term employees. Even the governor of Massachusetts got involved when he threatened to withhold state trade from the hotel chain. But no one has asked what Hyatt did wrong. The task of a manager in our economic system is to make AS MUCH MONEY AS POSSIBLE over the long run. (Huge windfall profits that end in bankruptcy are not acceptable.) The Hyatt managers did just that: the recession has affected the hospitality business; profits are down. The managers cut costs any way they could even if that seriously damaged loyal long term employees. They may personally regret their callous treatment of their housekeepers but their job is to make money, any legal way they can.
The Hyatt affair does not tell us anything about the managers of Hyatt hotels. It tells us something about ourselves and our economic system. Making as much money as possible is more important than personal loyalty, than treating employees decently, than being kind and helpful to our fellow men and women. Making as much money as possible justifies being callous to others, justified treating others harshly.
Most Americans agree that making money takes precedence over treating others decently. The uproar over the Hyatt firings is hypocritical. Most of us support this economic system. (The governor of Massachusetts used to be a top executive at Coca Cola.) When, occasionally, the brutality of that system is exhibited clearly we all profess outrage. But the guilty party here is not the Hyatt management but all the people who think that it is right to pursue profit even if fellow human beings are made to suffer as a consequence. The guilty parties are all those who support our economic system.