Did Newt Gingrich Ignore a Hyatt Boycott?

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February 28, 2012 in Labor & Economy, Politics & Government

On a recent Wednesday I was walking to my job at the RH restaurant inside the Hyatt Andaz Hotel on the Sunset Strip. Per my daily routine, I stepped into Starbucks to get my double-shot caramel macchiato. Near the window I sat near a blonde woman who was chatting it up with a dark-haired man in a suit. Weird, I thought to myself. That looks like Callista Gingrich, the third wife of Newt Gingrich and potential First Lady of the United States.

If it wasn’t her, this woman could’ve have easily passed for her body double. Were she an actress with any talent she could secure the spousal role if Hollywood decided to do a bio of Newt’s campaign, which I imagine would merely be the retelling of Don Quixote. Hollywood, are you listening? The Quixotic Adventure of Newt Gingrich has a nice ring to it.

I waved to the valet guys in front of the hotel while still on the sidewalk and then I saw IT. Newt’s Rocinante, his giant-sized campaign bus, clogging the loading dock and creating what appeared to be a headache for the valet employees who were now stuck trying to get cars through a much smaller space.

There it was in all its hyper-patriotic glory. Newt’s huge white head infused onto a canvas of red, white and blue. I stared at it with my mouth wide open. It almost looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was trying to take over America. I instantly got the Ghostbusters song in my head and it stayed there all night.

I’m a professional. I do my job. I have had customers treat me like real crap and I’ve smiled all the way through it, but the possibility that I might have to wait on Newt Gingrich would be the ultimate test. Could I do it? Could I smile all the way through an encounter with the former Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Everyone who knows me knows that I have two passions that I care about in this life –the labor movement and the gay rights movement. Newt Gingrich is against all that I stand for in both of these areas, as are most Republican candidates, but Newt is an even more special case this time around. It appeared that he decided to take his campaign business to a boycotted hotel. Bad move.

My place of employment, the Hyatt Andaz, has been under boycott for nearly two years now, as are other Hyatt properties across the nation. Hyatt refuses to settle a fair contract with its workers. We at the Andaz have been without a contract since November of 2009.

I imagine that for Newt, violating a boycott is a badge of honor. He vigorously opposes unions. In a 2007 article for Human Events, he called the Employee Free Choice Act a big-labor payback. This past week in Pasadena while speaking to a room of nearly 300 Tea Party activists he got even more poisonous when he claimed that the L.A. Unified School District cares more about protecting bad teachers than they care about the students. It was once again a slap at unions.

Would I say anything to him if I happened to wait on him this night? Was he even in the hotel? Or was he staying somewhere else? Maybe the campaign bus was merely for his staffers and he was staying somewhere else in an undisclosed location. Nobody was saying anything and the workers I asked didn’t know. Some didn’t even know who Newt Gingrich was. Head slap.

I kept pondering and imagining the interaction that would take place between Newt and I if I happened to wait on him.

“Hey, Mr. Speaker, do you know what they call gay marriage in Canada?”

“What?” He’d say, looking up from his plate of Surf and Turf.

“Marriage.” I’d tell him. And then I’d be taken away by security to an undisclosed location, where I’d wonder if Newt was ever going to get viable enough to attain actual Secret Service.

The truth about Newt when it comes to his record on gay rights issues is that he has said some ridiculously inane and offensive things. In a December interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board he seemed to suggest that gays have a choice. “I think people have a significant range of choice within a genetic pattern,” Gingrich said.

Newt’s dexterity with nearly invisible flip-flops in single sentences is an art to behold, but he can also be incredibly blunt at times and straightforward — as he was with Scott Arnold, an associate professor of writing at William Penn University. In a CBS television interview last December, the Speaker essentially told Arnold to vote for Obama if gay rights were the only issue he cared about.

Newt’s possible stay at the Hyatt Andaz was also coincidentally interesting for the fact that the hotel was recently forced to endure a two-hour picket sponsored by UNITE HERE Local 11, and OUT and OCCUPY, an LGBTQ coalition with strong ties to Occupy Los Angeles. The Courage Campaign and Get Equal endorsed this action, and it was estimated that nearly a 1,000 people attended. I was one of them.

These groups were protesting the working conditions of both gay and straight workers at the hotel. The action was titled Hyatt We’re Breaking Up With You. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day and it was a real shame that Newt wasn’t in Los Angeles a week earlier.

One of the main complaints from some of these LGBT groups like OUT and OCCUPY is that Hyatt is only interested in marketing to gays for business reasons and not in their core issues. If Newt Gingrich indeed stayed at the Hyatt Andaz I think that it only makes that point more clear. It is well known that Mr. Gingrich has signed two anti-gay marriage pledges, one from the Family Leader’s “Marriage Vow” pledge and the other for the National Organization for Marriage.

If Hyatt was serious about its compassion for LGBT issues. It wouldn’t accept the business of someone known for pissing off the gay community, especially in West Hollywood.

Around 11p.m. I saw a cavalcade of large men enter the front doors with curly plastic earphone pieces and stern countenances of authority. Someone important was definitely staying in the Hyatt Andaz in the heart of West Hollywood near the epicenter of Boys Town. Maybe it was Newt Gingrich, but I didn’t see him. I never saw him.

I clocked out at 12 a.m. and changed my uniform. I couldn’t wait to get off my feet and into my bed. As I rounded the corner back onto the sidewalk, two union organizers from UNITE HERE, Local 11 stepped forward from the street.

They were already planning a midnight picket, but they were practically delirious to discover the possibility that Newt Gingrich might be in the hotel. They both saw the exact same thing I saw when I showed up to work earlier in the evening — Newt’s giant-sized campaign bus stuffed into the entrance of the loading dock.

I seized my rights to protest on this eve and I joined them. We walked up Kings Road and pointed our voices toward the back alley parking lot, which lends itself to perfect amplification of sound, a virtual echo chamber behind the hotel. We sang traditional union chants into early morning hours. Chants that Caesar Chavez would be proud of.

If Newt Gingrich had indeed stayed at the Hyatt Andaz, I have no doubt that we that made him ponder the lives of hardworking gay and straight Americans. I have no doubt that he’ll reconsider his trip next time.

The next day I greeted one of my fellow servers as I got to work.

“I got to serve a famous politician this morning,” she said, twirling her hair.

“Who?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to politics…but you can tell he works really hard.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he yawned all morning.”

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Jim Lair Beard
Jim Lair Beard is a writer who worked as a server at the Hyatt Andaz for two years.
Read more articles by Jim Lair Beard

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