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Posts Tagged ‘UNITE HERE’

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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