On the weekend before Thanksgiving, thousands of religion scholars will gather for a joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature in a city that will provide more than enough material for moral reflection. By choosing to meet in Chicago, these scholars step into a complex moral landscape of interwoven labor disputes and economic stress that will require them to make hard decisions—beginning with where to lay their heads.

Many events of the AAR-SBL meeting would have been scheduled at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, conveniently located next to the city’s convention center. But the Hyatt hotel chain is the object of a national boycott in which its unionized workers have taken the drastic step of asking people not to stay, meet or eat at the establishments that employ them.

This sets up what seems like the beginning of a bad joke: “An ethicist, a preacher and a theologian walk into a hotel bar that is being boycotted by its own workers.”

The issue is no joke to the housekeepers who clean high-end hotel rooms which have increasingly elaborate luxury bedding. The heavy duvets and extra pillows that give customers a good night’s sleep cause back problems for the housekeepers, who claim that they are expected to work faster and harder. They are hoping that their boycott will compel the Chicago-based Hyatt Corporation to negotiate a fair contract, stop subcontracting jobs and allow workers at nonunion Hyatt hotels a fair process for trying to organize a union.

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