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Complaint: Picketing Hyatt Workers Were 'Assaulted' With Heat Lamps

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The union representing workers at the Park Hyatt Hotel has filed charges with federal labor authorities, after the wintertime heat lamps were turned on during a picket in the midst of the heat wave last week.

UNITE HERE Local 1 filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of 170 Park Hyatt employees. The union says a manager at the hotel turned on the heat lamps during the demonstration on July 21, a day on which the high temperature eventually climbed to 99 degrees and the heat index topped 100.

"The employer assaulted the employees and tried to fry them by shining heat lamps on them in the middle of what was already a hot, humid day," the union said in the statement.

Around 7 a.m., the lamps, which are used to warm up workers and guests during frigid weather, blinked on at the hotel's main entrance at 800 N. Michigan Ave. Temperatures were already in the mid-80s at that point in the day, said Gabriel Carrasquillo, a restaurant server at the hotel.

"Initially we just thought, how unbelievable, they're turning on the heat lamps in this heat advisory. This is what they think of us," Carrasquillo said.

"They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing," kitchen worker Linda Long said at the demonstration. "If the heat didn't kill us, the heat lamps would."

Carrasquillo later joined about 50 other protesters in chanting, "You can't smoke us out," and "Do what you want, we're not leaving."

Forty five minutes later, the lamps were turned off with no words from hotel management, he said. They were off by the time reporters arrived.

The hotel later issued a statement confirming the lamps were on, "but as soon as that fact came to our attention, they were turned off immediately." The hotel also offered water to employees and guests in front of the hotel.

The union alleges Hyatt admitted a manager was responsible for turning heat lamps on the striking workers.

Although workers have been negotiating with management for two years, a major sticking point is subcontracting or outsourcing its housekeeping staff, a notion hotel workers consider a threat to their job security.

Hyatt called the strike "another tactic in the union's campaign, designed to grow the membership and dues at the expense of the local members they aim to represent," a statement said. The hotel said the protests have not affected any guest services.

Last week's daylong strike coincided with protests at Hyatt hotels in nine other cities in the U.S.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed ot this report.

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