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Lacking contract, union hotel workers protest Hyatt

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hundreds of unionized hotel workers seeking a new contract and protesting staff cuts and working conditions staged a sit-in in front of a Hyatt Hotels Corp flagship Chicago hotel on Thursday.

Hotel workers demonstrated in front of the Hyatt Regency Chicago and other hotel properties in 15 localities from Boston to Hawaii, demanding new contracts, better treatment, or both, said Annemarie Strassel, an organizer for the UNITEHERE union.

Some two hundred workers arranged in advance with police to be arrested for blockading the hotel, located next to the downtown Loop.

"People are prepared to go to jail," Strassel said. "We do have expired contracts here, but the fight is much broader.

"It's a protest of Hyatt and its billionaire owners (the Pritzker family). Workers here and across the country feel that the hotel is taking unfair advantage of the recession to hurt workers, even though the industry is poised to rebound."

The Pritzker family of Chicago controls Hyatt, but floated a quarter of the company in November 2009, reaping $950 million.

Workers should give voice to their complaints at the bargaining table, instead of trying to drum up membership with street protests, a Hyatt spokeswoman said.

"In some cases, we've been trying to get them to come to the negotiating table for the past nine months," Hyatt spokeswoman Farley Kern said.

"While we have come to expect a certain amount of union posturing during negotiations, this delay is unfortunate, and work actions can be destructive to the still very fragile economy," Hyatt said in a statement.

Bookings have rebounded from a sluggish 2009 at top-tier hotel chains such as Hyatt, Marriott International Inc and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.

(Reporting by Andrew Stern; editing by Andre Grenon)

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