Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘UNITE HERE’

Philadelphia Just Passed the Strongest Fair Scheduling Law in the Nation

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Philadelphia, the poorest big city in the country, just enacted the most sweeping bill yet to give low-wage workers some control over their schedules.

The city’s new law, which passed the city council on Thursday, will require businesses with more than 250 employees and more than 30 locations worldwide to provide employees their schedules at least 10 days in advance. If any changes are made to their schedules after that, employers will owe employees more money. Employers will also be required to offer more hours as they become available to existing employees who want them rather than hiring new people, and they’ll be banned from retaliating against those who either request or decline more hours.

The law is poised to have a huge impact: A recent survey conducted by UC Berkeley found that among food and retail sector workers in Philadelphia, 62 percent receive their schedules less than two weeks ahead of time and two-thirds work irregular or variable schedules. Almost half usually work 30 hours or less each week even though less than 15 percent have a second job to supplement their incomes.

“It seems that employers are being less and less cognizant of their workers’ needs and home lives,” noted Nadia Hewka, an employment lawyer with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which advocated for the bill. “This would just put a little bit of balance back into that equation.”

The effort to help workers control their schedules started around a year ago, when advocates convened to discuss how Philadelphia could take action on its own to improve living standards for its residents. “Philadelphia is a very high-poverty city,” Hewka noted. More than a quarter of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. So advocates were interested in “anything that we can do to raise the bottom just a little bit.” But thanks to a state preemption law, the city can’t raise the minimum wage—that power is reserved for the state government. So the city council has turned to a number of other measures that can make life for working people easier: paid sick leave, an anti-wage theft ordinance, a salary history ban, ban the box legislation and now a fair scheduling law.

“What I know is that I can’t be paralyzed just because the state has limited our capacity to be able to directly raise the minimum wage,” said Helen Gym, the first-term councilmember who introduced the fair workweek bill. “We have to talk about other things that impact people’s lives and could also improve them.”

The former community organizer came into the council looking for something that could “really grapple with this incredibly vast and intractable situation around deep and entrenched poverty in our city.” As she spoke with low-wage workers and those who work with them—teachers, lawyers, anti-poverty advocates—everyone brought up how unstable schedules were disrupting people’s lives. “This was a major, major issue,” she said.

“As a municipality, we have to do something,” she added. “We have the authority and the responsibility to act here as one of the largest cities in the country.” Her colleagues apparently agreed: “It has been one of the most popular bills to move through our council in a while,” she said.

While other places, such as Oregon, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle, have similar scheduling legislation, Philadelphia’s goes further by covering workers in all industries, not just those in retail. “Of all the bills that exist around the country, ours will be the most far-reaching,” Gym noted. Hewka credits the involvement of UNITE HERE Philly, which represents hotel and restaurant workers and advocated for the bill.  

Hewka sees the new law as an anti-poverty measure.  It’s difficult “when you don’t know how many hours you’re working and how much you’ll be earning by the end of the week or the end of the month to make the bills you need to make,” she said. Someone’s income isn’t just determined by her wage, but by how many hours she works. A more predictable set of hours, and the ability to get more as they become available, can make a big difference.

And there are other benefits to a steady schedule. Hewka noted that many people feel that if minimum wage workers don’t like their pay they should get better jobs. “How are you supposed to improve your lot in life and go to school if your class schedules are set and your work schedule always changes?” Hewka noted. It’s also nearly impossible to hold down a second job to make ends meet if the first one is constantly shifting.

The bind is particularly tight for parents. “When [workers] are not allowed to have a say in their schedules,” Hewka said, “it impacts their entire family.” One big hurdle is finding childcare to fit a work schedule when that work schedule is constantly shifting.

On top of that, parents have to get their children to school, doctors’ offices, after-school activities and other appointments. Poor families are also often navigating the demands of welfare offices or child services, Hewka pointed out, all of which typically require daytime appointments. “All of these systems assume that you’re available to do these tasks,” she said. She has even had clients fail to show up to meetings in her office because they had to be at work instead.

“Jobs don’t recognize [workers’] humanity, let alone these kinds of demands on their lives,” she added. “You’re spinning plates up in the air with all of these things in your life. A work schedule changing can really cause everything to come crashing down.”

Gym hopes not just to improve Philadelphians’ working lives, but to make a bigger impact. “We’re trying to change the way in which we talk about poverty and the nature of work these days,” she said. “Not only did we set a standard for what happens around the state, but we sent a message across the nation that we need to see an economic justice agenda.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on December 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert, a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has written for The New Republic, The Nation, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, New York Magazine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus.

After nearly 2 months on strike, Hawaii workers secure better contract

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Hawaii hotel workers, who went on strike in early October, finally reached a deal on their contract. After 51 days of striking, workers have won higher wages as well as more funding for health care and pensions.

The contract will provide for $6 per-hour increases in wages and benefits over four years, which is the most the union has negotiated, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. For many weeks, workers at Marriott-operated and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts-owned hotels lived off union stipends that were hundreds of dollars less than what they would make in a week.

Paola Rodelas, spokeswoman for the union, Unite Here Local 5, told Travel Weekly when the strike first began that the wage was insufficient for hotel workers living in a state with such a high cost of living. A worker in the state would need to make $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Rodelas added that job security and adequate staffing and safety procedures were important to the union, saying that “Housekeeping is back-breaking work.”

Non-tipped hotel workers secured a $1.50 per hour wage increase and tipped employees received a $0.75 hour wage increase. Workers have an additional 20 cents and 13 cents per hour for health care and for pensions. The union agreed to set aside 10 cents an hour to provide for childcare, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the hotels, has agreed that housekeepers can clean fewer rooms each day and pregnant women in particular will clean fewer rooms. Hotel workers were also concerned about their jobs being affected by automation. The hotel said it will let the union know in advance if it will be getting automating and thus wiping out people’s jobs.

Gina Aczon, a hotel employee who takes care of reservations, told Hawaii News Now that the 51-day strike was difficult on families, particularly around the holidays.

Aczon said, “I’m really happy that this is already done so that we can enjoy the holidays.”

An overwhelming majority, 99.6 percent of workers, approved the deal.

Vacationers and business travelers definitely felt the absence of workers. According to Hawaii News Now, visitors at the striking hotels said pools and food and bar services were closed, bathrooms went uncleaned, and they didn’t have enough clean towels. One couple actually filed a class action lawsuit against Marriott International and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts after they found the hotel stay they planned for their honeymoon did not have housekeeping and had very few services and amenities. Some guests also complained about the noise of workers striking outside hotels.

The Hawaii hotel workers join Marriott workers in Boston, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, and Detroit who secured new contracts after going on strike in October. Those strikes lasted for weeks but alended earlier this month, with those workers securing higher wages, better health benefits and working conditions, and ending unsafe workloads. The only hotel workers who are still on strike are workers in San Francisco, who ate Thanksgiving dinner on the picket line. Negotiations will resume this weekend. In total, about 7,700 hotel workers went on strike in October.

As part of the Unite Here strike effort, hotel workers held signs that read, “One job should be enough.” Union members said one job’s pay should keep up with the cost of living and support families and that workers should be able to “retire with dignity.”

Many Americans still have multiple jobs despite lower unemployment rates, mostly due to slow increases in pay and employers not increasing hours and benefits.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 28, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Hawaiian hotel workers want better pay for state’s high cost of living

Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

Thousands of Marriott hotel workers in Hawaii say they want better wages, sexual harassment protections, and a promise not to be replaced by automation. They have been on strike for more than a week, but it doesn’t appear the strike will end anytime soon.

Hotel workers who are members of Unite Here Local 5 have been working without a contract since July and voted to authorize a strike in September, Hawaii Public Radio reported. They have been picking outside of five hotels managed by Marriott and owned by Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, but neither company has tried to schedule new bargaining dates with the union. A week ago, Unite Here Local 5 and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts reached an impasse on negotiations, according to the Associated Press. Hotel workers at two additional hotels could go on strike at any time, since they also voted to authorize strikes.

Workers have been holding signs that read “One job should be enough,” which means pay should keep up with the cost of living, that people should be able to support families with their paychecks from one job, and that they should be able to “retire with dignity,” according to the workers’ labor union Unite Here. It also refers to what workers say is an expectation that hotel workers do the work of two people.

Marriott hotel workers went on strike in eight cities across the country last week, including San Francisco, Boston, Oakland, Detroit, San Diego, and Oahu and Maui in Hawaii. In Hawaii, 2,700 Marriott hotel workers are on strike. Like the hotel strike in Chicago, this strike includes workers from a variety of positions, such as doormen, front desk attendants, restaurant workers, and housekeepers. In Chicago, workers who are part of the Unite Here Local 1 union mainly focused on year-round health care and hotel strikes included a number of hotel brands, including Hilton and Hyatt. Workers at only one hotel are still on strike after five weeks. The union has settled 25 contracts that give workers year-round health insurance.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts released a statement Friday that said they are “committed to continuing our good faith bargaining.”

But Michael Kirby, a member of Local 5, told The Maui News that the company needs to address workers’ specific demands.

“I understand that Kyo-ya wants to welcome the workers back. They haven’t set a date to do any kind of contract negotiations,” Kirby told the publication.

Tourism officials are worried the strike could continue into 2019 and current and former hotel and travel industry executives say they’re worried about bookings, the AP reported. Visitors staying at the striking hotels have also complained about their stays, which included closed pools, no food and bar services, uncleaned bathrooms and a lack of clean towels, to name a few issues. Some people have asked for full and partial refunds as a result, Hawaii News Now reported.

Pay that properly covers housing is a big issue for hotel workers in Hawaii. Home values for someone living in Hawaii are very high, at a $617,400 median home value and a median rent of $1,573. The state has had the highest median housing values in the U.S. since 2007. Housekeepers made $22.14 per hour under their old contract. Paola Rodelas, spokesperson for the union, told Travel Weekly that this wage isn’t sufficient for hotel workers in the state. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a Hawaii worker would have to make at least $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Looking at Honolulu specifically, a worker would need to make $39.06 to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Rodelas told Travel Weekly, “For our workers, the most important issue is to make one job enough to live in Hawaii. It has to do with wages and benefits, but it also has to do with a range of issues. It also encompasses job security, automation and technology in the workplace, the increasing use of subcontractors and outsourcing, which is a big issue in Hawaii, and workplace safety. Housekeeping is back-breaking work and there are rampant issues of sexual harassment in hotels. We want to make sure there are adequate staffing and safety procedures.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Chicago hotels seem unwilling to meet workers’ demands, as strike stretches into second week

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

The Chicago hotel workers strike has entered its second week, but employees and management don’t appear to be any closer to a resolution.

Workers are demanding year-round health insurance, since many workers don’t have insurance during the slow winter months, when they are laid off. They also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads.

Ionela Petrea, a server at Hyatt Regency Bar who is on the worker negotiating committee at the hotel, told the Chicago Tribune last week that there had been two negotiating sessions since the beginning of the strike. Petrea said they were talking about wage increases for tipped workers, heavy workloads, and year-round health insurance, with the last issue being the source of the most contention. Petrea told the Tribune that the reason the hotel is probably dragging its feet on this particular issue because it would be more expensive compared to other requests.

The union argues that the hotel industry can afford to answer the workers’ demands. Sarah Lyons, research analyst of UNITE HERE Local 1, told WTTW, “The Chicago hospitality industry is doing extraordinarily well. Last year there were a record number of visitors: 55 million people. Chicago hotels raked in $2.3 billion in revenue last year.”

The contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, including doorman, servers, doormen, and housekeepers, expired on August 30. The businesses don’t seem any more eager to meet workers’ requests, however. Last week, representatives for these hotels claimed that it was too early in the negotiations process to strike and that workers and management had not reached an impasse. This week, hotels continue to make similar statements and haven’t signaled that they’re willing to meet workers’ demands.

Paul Andes, a Hilton Hotels senior vice president for labor relations, said in a statement to Chicago Reader published on Tuesday that the strike will have “minimal impact” on operations and added, “We continue to provide the service and amenities we are proud to offer our guests and clients every day. We are negotiating with the union in good faith and are confident that we will reach an agreement that is fair to our valued team members and to our hotels.”

However, last week, travelers said that their stay at Palmer House a Hilton Hotel, or as some refer to it, Palmer House Hilton, had a few complications. According to ABC7, towels were piling up, beds were unmade, and check-in lines were long. The same has been true at other hotels during the strike, with managers doing housekeeping and struggling to keep up with the workload. Ernesto Melendez, a Chicago tourist staying at a strike-affected hotel he did not name, said to CBS Chicago, “Our room hasn’t been cleaned for a couple of days. They gave us a notice when we checked in that they weren’t going to clean the room and that’s tough because there’s five of us in the room.”

Some groups holding events have moved their conferences to hotels and other venues where workers are not on strike in solidarity with workers. Last week, the Democratic Attorneys General Association canceled its 200-person policy event at the strike-affected JW Marriott in support of the hotel workers, the Chicago Tribune reported. Howard Brown Health Center, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ people’s health, moved the Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium from its original hotel venue where workers were striking to the Tribune to Malcolm X College.

Some national political figures such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, have tweeted in support of the strike.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) decided to give a speech at a striking hotel, however, while Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago’s 35th Ward, joined the hotel workers’ picket line.

The Democratic candidate challenging Gov. Rauner, Jay Robert Pritzker, or J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist, is a member of the family that owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. Pritzker, who received endorsements from 14 unions in May and has sent a number of pro-union tweets, has not tweeted anything about the hotel strike since it began.

Thousands of Boston hotel employers may be next to go on strike. Last week, Marriott hotel workers voted to authorize a strike against Marrott’s eight Boston hotels to demand better pay and benefits, according to WGBH.

“It won’t only cripple the hotels, but it will send a message worldwide that there’s labor unrest in Boston,” Brian Lang, Local 26 union president, said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Chicago hotel strike enters sixth day, as workers demand year-round health insurance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Thousands of Chicago hotel workers continued their strike for the sixth day Wednesday, primarily to demand a year-round health insurance guarantee. The union said workers also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads, the Associated Press reported. Their contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, expired on August 30.

The number of hotel workers involved in the strike has only increased since then. On Monday, workers at Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile joined the strike, which brought the count of hotels affected by the strike to 26. Before the strike, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE Local 1’s members voted on the issue and 97 percent voted to authorize it.

The union told the Chicago Tribune that it is the most widespread and coordinated hotel worker strike ever held in Chicago. It’s the first strike in the city to include all hotel workers, whether they’re dishwashers or housekeepers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

As the Tribune reported, there are only four hotels that have expired contracts where hotel workers are not on strike: Hotel Raffaelo, Tremont Chicago at Magnificent Mile, Park Hyatt Chicago, and Fairmont Chicago.

Some fine dining restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s fine-dining restaurant and Torali Italian-Steak, are closed or offering limited menus. Inside the Palmer House Hilton, long lines await check-in, dirty towels have been piling up, and beds have been left unmade, according to ABC7. One guest, Matt Lissack, told ABC7 that the line for check-in was “literally around the building.”

In the central business, there are 174 hotels, which means travelers could stay somewhere that is not dealing with contract negotiations, but the hotels in the midst of a strike are some of the biggest ones in Chicago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Q. Rivers, who works at Palmer House Hilton, said in a statement on the union website, “Hotels may slow down in the wintertime, but I still need my diabetes medication when I’m laid off. Nobody should lose their health benefits just because it’s cold out. Full-time jobs should have year-round benefits.”

Each hotel or hotel brand does its own negotiation with the union, so management at some hotels and brands could make agreements with the union before others. Hotel groups say it’s too early in the negotiation process for workers to go on strike, and say they have not yet reached an impasse with the union.

Thousands of workers have disagreed. A spokesperson for Hyatt sent a statement to ABC7 saying, “In fact, Hyatt has not received the union’s complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement … Many colleagues are working …”

A Hilton spokesperson told the outlet “More and more of our union Team Members are choosing to return to work and we welcome them to do so,” adding that “It is still early in the negotiations process and Hilton is committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 recently helped workers by advocating for a Chicago ordinance that made the city the second in the country to require that hotels have panic buttons. These panic buttons allow hotel workers to request help if a guest is harassing or sexually assaulting them. In 2016, the union put out a survey that showed 58 percent of those surveyed were sexually harassed by guests.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits

Yale: Negotiate with Your Graduate Teachers

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

In February, the graduate teachers voted to be represented by UNITE HERE. But Yale University has refused to negotiate with them. If they stall long enough, more appointees by President Donald Trump will be seated at the National Labor Relations Board. How quickly do you think those appointees would vote to roll back the rights of graduate workers?

Graduate teachers are teachers. Once they walk into the classroom, their job becomes indistinguishable from that of a tenured faculty member. When they counsel students outside of class, they aren’t giving them only part-time counseling. When they spend endless hours grading papers and tests, their work benefits the university and helps create the environment that attracts students and investors in the school.

Eight UNITE HERE Local 33 members are fasting to protest the university’s refusal to bargain with graduate teachers. The teachers also have marched, picketed and committed acts of civil disobedience. They’ve done all this because they want a seat at the table, something they have earned with their hard work:

We’ve done all this for a simple reason. We want a voice and a seat at the table. Our members, like many young workers in this economy, have to deal with intense economic insecurity. We face punishing competition in a declining career track. Women experience an epidemic of sexual harassment in academia. People of color are systemically marginalized. We want change, and we’ve been told to wait for too long.

Take action today, and send a message to Yale demanding it negotiate with its graduate teachers.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

“We’re Not Paid Enough”: Cafeteria Workers at Walt Disney World Say They Want a Union

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

RobertSchwartzThe cafeteria workers at “The Most Magical Place on Earth” are trying to organize a union. About three-quarters of the cafeteria workers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, have signed cards indicating that they want the union UNITE HERE to represent them.

Disney World, the largest single-site employer in the United States, has over 74,000 workers, the majority of them unionized. This makes Disney one of the biggest unionized labor presences in the entire state of Florida. UNITE HERE already represents 23,000 of the park’s employees, but Disney outsources its cafeteria work to the French company Sodexo, which means that the 350 people who make up the cafeteria staff lack the same union representation as the other park workers.

Sodexo is no stranger to labor disputes. They have been the target of at least nine university boycotts in recent years, with students protesting their low-pay and substandard working conditions. In 2009, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began a nationwide campaign against Sodexo to improve its employees’ wages and working conditions. Sodexo sued the SEIU in 2011, claiming that the union used illegal tactics in their effort. The SEIU ended their campaign and the charges were dropped, but concerns about Sodexo’s labor practices continue to follow the company. At Disney, the questionable conditions are highlighted by the fact that most of the surrounding park employees are unionized.

“Most workers at the park are unionized and they’re being served [food] by an outsourced company that isn’t,” Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362 and a former park employee, tells In These Times. “We don’t think it’s fair for an entire group of people to be without a voice at work.”

The Sodexo workers’ lack of representation regularly allows them to be taken advantage of, as workers point to erratic scheduling, short-notice relocation, and retaliatory action if they complain about their situation.

Sodexo could recognize the union through a “card check” process, which unions claim is a fairer method for workers than a traditional National Labor Relations Board election because of the opportunity for employer interference, but has yet to do so. Clinton made it clear to In These Times that the union wasn’t thinking about an NLRB election at the moment. Card check is regularly criticized by pro-business groups for depriving workers of their right to a secret ballot. Some believe that such a process allows the union to pressure employees into backing unionization against its own will. But UNITE HERE believes that an election would expose workers to pressure from Sodexo.

“I talk to people who deal with last-minute schedule changes, switched shifts. I know workers who are living in their cars,” Sammy Torres, a chef at Sodexo, tells In These Times. “We’re trying to get better benefits and show we’re not paid enough. “I’m 46. There’s no retirement plans. I’ve been fighting this for a while now. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Torres says the Sodexo staff has the support of Disney cast members, but believes the holdup actually stems from the park, not Sodexo.

“I think Disney doesn’t want it,” says Torres.

UNITE HERE has had success winning unions for other Sodexo workers throughout the country. Sodexo claims hundreds of collective bargaining agreements, but Disney insists they can’t force an outside company to change its policies.

William Lawson, a field representative at the Central Florida AFL-CIO, isn’t buying that. In a blog post titled “Of Mice and Management” Lawson writes:

Disney is already a hotbed for organized labor but you can’t get your one gold star and then stop there. There is absolutely no earthly reason why the largest employer in Central Florida, one of the most profitable entities on the face of this planet, and a household name in supposed moral virtuousness should have workers living in cars or on the street. It’s unconscionable and ”We can’t tell another company what to do” is not a valid excuse.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Michael Arria is a journalist living in NYC. He is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria.

Over 40 Former UNITE HERE Staff, Volunteers Rebuke Union for Endorsing Rahm Emanuel

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

photo_9514A group of former UNITE HERE staffers and volunteers from around the country released an open letter to the union today, rebuking Chicago’s UNITE HERE Local 1 for its endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and questioning the union’s commitment to progressive unionism.

“Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago … is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy,” the letter reads. As of Friday morning, the letter was signed by 41 people, almost all of whom listed the local or locals where they worked with the union.

The letter was released this morning at a web site entitled “No Rahm Love,” a reference to the union’s “Rahm Love” ad campaign that praises the mayor’s record on workers’ issues, despite his widespread reputation as a strongly anti-labor mayor, most notably in his dealings with the Chicago Teachers Union. Members of UNITE HERE Local 1 stood prominently behind Emanuel as he gave his speech on election night February 24. (Full disclosure: I was briefly a member of Local 1 in 2010.)

“Local 1’s campaign, ‘Rahm Love,’ claims that the mayor ‘loves’ workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the letter continues. “Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago.” Almost all of those who signed the letter are former staffers or activists.

The letter’s signatories say the endorsement of Emanuel has made them question what they formerly considered to be the progressivism of the union.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

UNITE HERE has positioned itself as strong part of the progressive wing of the American labor movement. In addition to its role in the immigrant rights movement, the union has taken strong public stances on LGBTQ rights and other issues. And at a time when many unions have all but given up on militant action like strikes and strong development of rank-and-file workers as activists, the union has made both a key part of their program at many union locals around the country, including Chicago.

That made the union’s endorsement of Emanuel puzzling to many observers and former UNITE HERE activists and organizers like those quoted in the letter.

The union’s endorsement of Emanuel goes “against everything I was ever taught” at the union: that “you could have all the money in the world, but organizing outdid money,” says Jill Landrith, a former server at a restaurant inside the Westin Hotel in Chicago and member of Local 1. Landrith, who signed the open letter, left her server position to work for the union as an internal organizer from 2009 to 2014.

Local 1 has members who are food service workers in Chicago Public Schools; when Mayor Emanuel closed down 49 public schools in 2013, those workers lost their jobs. “We have members who were personally hurt by this man. When he closed the schools, our members got fired,” she says.

During a staff meeting when the union was discussing its potential endorsement in late 2013, Landrith says she remembers a staffer commenting, “This is how the trades do it”—referring to the building trades unions, the vast majority of which endorsed Emanuel—”so if we want a seat at the table, this is how we have to do it, too.” Another former Local 1 staffer present at the meeting confirmed hearing the statement.

Landrith says she was particularly upset by the “Rahm Love” ad campaign, in which workers listed off how much Emanuel has done for them. One ad included Roushaunda Williams, a Palmer House Hotel worker Landrith organized with during a strike there, who says, ““Rahm love. It’s how the mayor fights so that hotel workers earn a decent living. We have health insurance, pensions and sick days off. We have Rahm love.”

“We won [the strike] because of Roushaunda,” she says, “because of all the workers there who went out on strike and fought. So to see them in that video giving Rahm credit for what they’ve done—it killed me. Roushaunda deserved the credit, not Rahm.”

Landrith, her voice choking, says, “It hurts me, it just hurts,” before ending the interview.

Multiple requests for comment from a UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson went unanswered.

The full text of the letter can be read below:

Dear UNITE HERE Local 1,

We the undersigned are allies and supporters of UNITE HERE, in Chicago and elsewhere. We have all, at some point, committed our hearts, souls, and hours, as volunteer interns, boycott and research volunteers, and staff in the belief that UNITE HERE was a powerful force for justice for hospitality workers and workers everywhere. Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago is the exact opposite, however: it is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy.

Local 1’s campaign, “Rahm Love,” claims that the mayor “loves” workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago, from his attempt to destroy the standards of the Chicago Teachers Union, closing half the mental health clinics in the city, presiding over a higher unemployment rate among African Americans than other cities, and continuing to use TIFs as a city slush fund to benefit corporate wealth and the rich.

American cities are facing pitched battles. On one side, progressive candidates are advancing across the country and socialist electoral candidates are winning elections in major cities like Jackson, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., and marchers are blocking freeways and shutting down public spaces in protest of police violence; on the other side, gentrification displaces communities into desolate ring suburbs, and politicians race to give the biggest tax breaks to corporations. This is no different in Chicago, and there is a crucial question of all unions to be asked: which side are you on?

Taking the choice of struggle is dangerous and uncertain, but one an increasing number of unions, like the CTU, have taken. Local 1’s choice was clearly not made out of stupidity or ignorance. It is a calculated choice to prioritize opportunistic gains and favor in the halls of power over the road of struggle. This is an old strategy, and one that time and again has proved a failure in the long run. It is just like an organizing drive at a workplace: to some workers the boss offers raises, promotions and even some power while others are subject to firings, surveillance, and intimidation. Those the boss tries to buy off have a choice: do they stand with their coworkers for real power, or take the pittance they’re offered? UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen the table scraps, and thrown their fellow workers into the fire.

How could this choice have been made? It is telling that this letter does not include many current activists for the union. It is not that staff and volunteers throughout the union are not disgusted by Local 1’s behavior. Quite the contrary, there are many who agree with us, but they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs, of being squeezed out of work they’ve poured themselves into, or getting cornered into uncomfortable conversations ensuring at least their silence. What’s more, some think of themselves as committed to the broader movement but have bought into the destructive idea that no matter what, building their union is identical with building the movement and thus deny the destructive impacts of this opportunism. This anti-political and anti-democratic atmosphere is a dangerous omen for the state of rank-and-file democracy in UNITE HERE, and leads us to wonder what Local 1’s membership thinks of Rahm, their union’s behavior, and whether the union represents their interests.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

We hope this letter is heard by UNITE HERE Local 1 leadership, but more importantly we hope it is heard by union militants everywhere and the UNITE HERE rank and file. Do not stand cynically by as Local 1’s leadership follows the old losing playbook and betrays the entire movement. We can and must have a fighting, progressive labor movement, and we can and must beat Rahm.

This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on April 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Micah Uetricht is the web editor of In These Times. He is a contributing editor at Jacobin and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera America,Dissent, and the Chicago Reader

Unite Here and Hyatt Hotels Reach Broad Peace Agreement

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Bruce VailHospitality workers union Unite Here has reached an expansive labor agreement with Hyatt Hotels Corp that is expected to end a years-long series of workplace struggles that has attracted attention around the country and across the globe.

The agreement is aimed at ending the union’s ‘Hyatt Hurts’ global boycott campaign by settling outstanding labor contract issues at nine broadly scattered hotels and creating a path forward for new union organizing efforts at a select number of the company’s non-union facilities, Unite Here President Donald Taylor tells Working In These Times.

“We feel good about this, but obviously there is still work to do,” to repair relations with Hyatt, Taylor says. “This campaign has been going on for four years and it was pretty clear that neither side was going to cave…For both sides, a better way…was to reach a compromise,” he says.

Full details of the agreement will be released only gradually, Taylor says, as union members are briefed on the specific provisions and ratification votes are held in the four cities where new contracts are being finalized. Those include Hyatt’s home city of Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. In all of these cities, the union says, new contracts will provide wage increases and broad protections for existing pension and health care benefits that had previously been under attack by the company.

“We are delighted that our associates in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Waikiki will have [new] contracts and the pay raises that go with them,” states Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources. Those contracts will cover about 3,000 union workers at nine separate hotels in the four cities, the company says, and will extend to 2018.

Once the new contracts have been ratified, Unite Here will end its highly publicized global boycott of the Hyatt chain, Taylor says. That should take 4 to 6 weeks, the union leader indicates. A neutrality agreement to allow organizing at select non-union Hyatt hotels will go forward at that time as well.

The boycott gained many strong backers, from the National Organization for Women to the National Football League Players Association.

The campaign even reached into the White House, with President Barack Obama receiving criticism for his appointment of Hyatt heir Penny Pritzker as U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker, the daughter of Hyatt co-founder Donald Pritzker, claimed to have no influence on the chain’s day-to-day business affairs, despite serving on the board of directors and owning some 10 million shares of company stock. During the nomination process, Pritzker promised to remove herself from Hyatt’s board once she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Taylor says there is no connection between the Pritzker’s confirmation last week and announcement of the Hyatt deal this week. “Speaking for the union, I can tell you that it didn’t have any effect on us at all. I can’t speak for Hyatt though,” he says.

As part of the compromise between Unite Here and Hyatt, the union is dropping demands that the company agree to “card check” certification procedures at a number of hotels where the union has new organizing campaigns underway. The card check, in which union certification is achieved by collecting signed cards from a majority of workers who want a union, has long been staunchly opposed by Hyatt. The two sides have agreed to a compromise, Taylor says, in which secret ballot elections will be held under the direction of an independent third-party arbitrator. Hyatt will agree not to actively campaign against the union, as it has in the past, he indicates.

Unite Here’s concession on card check was key to the agreement, Hyatt’s Patrick indicates. “Hyatt has long maintained that our associates should have the right to vote on whether they wish to be represented by a union. We are pleased that our associates will continue to have the opportunity to vote whether or not they wish to be represented by Unite Here. The voting process will take place at those locations where Hyatt and Unite Here agree to it,” he tells Working In These Times in an e-mail message.

One aspect of the national agreement that is being held close to the vest is the location of the different hotels where new organizing elections are to be scheduled. Taylor confirms rumors that the high profile organizing campaign at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore is among them, but declines to name any of the others.

Taylor concludes by saying that the national agreement does not cover all of the Hyatt hotels where the union and the company have clashed, so observers can expect to see union activism continuing in some places. “Some campaigns will continue, but we want to diminish the skirmishing in some markets,” he says, without offering much detail. “Hopefully, the national agreement will lead to better understanding all around,” so that remaining points of contention can be resolved more easily over time, he suggests.

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on July 2, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Chicago Lunch Ladies Push for Fresh Food for Students…and Job Security

Friday, May 4th, 2012

kari-lydersen

School cafeteria food is the butt of many jokes. Despite national attention and student activism aimed at making school lunches tastier and healthier, and federal regulations mandating more fruits and veggies that take effect July 1, word on the ground is that it still leaves much to be desired, to say the least. Prepackaged highly processed salty and sugary foods still make up a disproportionate part of the menu. And ironically, students, teachers and “lunch ladies” around the country have reported, many of the healthier new additions to cafeteria menus are going uneaten.

The union UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents 3,200 cafeteria workers in Chicago public schools, says this is the case in the more than 600 schools where they work. And they say school officials could have much more success with adding healthier options to the menu that students will actually eat if they consider more input from the cafeteria workers who talk with and observe the kids on a daily basis.

Such worker input is now enshrined in a contract agreement signed between the union and the Chicago Board of Education this week, a measure the union is calling “landmark.” It also addresses the school district’s plans to increasingly replace actual cooking in many schools with “warming kitchens” where pre-made food would be warmed up.

The union says that according to the school district’s 2008 bid solicitation for pre-made food, 178 elementary schools currently have only warming kitchens and – as of that time – that was the plan for all new elementary schools. UNITE HERE says pre-made food is bad for kids and also for cafeteria workers’ job security. UNITE HERE senior research analyst Kyle Schafer said that hundreds of jobs could have been at risk if the school system went through with its previous plans for more warming kitchens.

Schafer told me:

We’ve lost a number of jobs in recent years – obviously it takes less folks to heat a meal than to make a meal from scratch. That’s how the history of institutional food service in schools has been going — the move to more and more processed foods has largely been one to cut labor costs, not because anyone thought the food was better for the kids. This is both a more traditional labor issue and also a food issue in terms of how it affects the kids.

The new five-year contract agreement stipulates that no full kitchens will be replaced by warming kitchens in existing schools, and the school board must consult with the union—giving them a chance to organize an opposition campaign—if they plan to build a new school with only a warming kitchen.

Barbara Collins, a union member with more than 20 years working in school cafeterias, told me the provisions for worker input in the new contract are crucial to letting workers give kids food that is both healthy and that they will actually eat. She noted that recent switches for health reasons – like a shift from fried to baked potatoes – have been  nearly pointless since many kids won’t eat baked potatoes. Baked chicken has fared better among students, she noted. Such input from the workers who cook 77,000 breakfasts and 280,000 lunches for Chicago students each day will now be considered in developing new menus.

“It’s kind of hard to feed children nowadays—it’s hard to please them,” Collins told me. “Our committee is going to come together and see if we can come up with some good ideas for the children.”

The contract agreement capped a months-long campaign including rallies in January and April and two reports: “Feeding Chicago’s Kids the Food they Deserve” in January – based on a survey of 436 school kitchen workers, and “Kitchens Without Cooks.” As Collins indicated, the “Feeding” report found that 42 percent of workers thought students were not eating the new healthier menu items.

Half of the respondents also said principals never eat cafeteria food – a finding that is not surprising but nonetheless is a bad sign. Perhaps most disturbingly, that study found that only 39 percent of cafeteria workers felt they could report concerns about food quality or safety to parents or others without fear of discipline, meaning almost two-thirds would likely stay silent even when they observed potential problems.

A Chicago public schools teacher and parent, Sarah Wu, blogged anonymously — fearing for her job — for a year about horrendous cafeteria food. The Chicago Tribune described the offerings she consumed, often feeling sick as a result:

…the surprising parade of plastic-wrapped, processed foods that appeared on her tray each day — from bagel dogs, popcorn chicken and Salisbury steak to green gelatin, peanut butter and jelly bars, and blue raspberry ice pops…

Kitchens Without Cooks noted that nine out of 11 new elementary schools built since 2006 under a $1 billion program for modern schools include only warming kitchens. That means, the report says, that 81 percent of new elementary schools compared to 36 percent of older elementary schools serve frozen re-heated food.

The report also quotes workers in various schools that have switched from cooking to “warming,” saying that students used to eat the food more when it was freshly-cooked. They say kids are more likely to throw away the food that resembles “TV dinners” – even if these meals are theoretically healthier “improvements” on the old fare.

The Kitchens Without Cooks report quotes Tiffany Guynes, who is a kitchen worker at and also has a son attending the new Langston Hughes elementary school on the city’s south side. The study  says Guynes often packs a lunch for her son instead of letting him eat the food she serves the other students.

The first day I walked into the cafeteria two questions came to my mind. Where is the stove? And where are the cooks? We don’t have either at Langston Hughes…I wouldn’t eat a lot of this food. If it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for my son.

The reports jibed with other media reports, including a November 2011 report by The Chicago Tribune that participation in school meal programs had dropped to 70 percent since healthier options were added, even though 82 percent of students were eligible for subsidized meals.

Collins—whose four kids and 20-plus grandkids went to or are going to Chicago Public Schools —thinks the new contract is a start in helping both cafeteria workers and kids. She said:

My crew, we take good care of the children. If a child is hungry they really can’t learn. If we feed them properly breakfast and lunch, they’ll do better. I want to see a smile on their face.

About the author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.

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