Category Archives: Labor Justice

Talking Tikkun Olam on Poco a Poco Radio

I recently had the pleasure, along with my good friend, community organizer extraordinaire Michael Deheeger (left), to be interviewed by Gonzalo and Maya Escobar for the Poco a Poco Radio program on WLUW 88.7 Chicago. During our wonderfully wide-ranging bilingual conversation, we had the opportunity to explore the Jewish roots of social justice and how it informs our work as activists.

Chicago locals can hear the interview on Sunday, August 12 1:30 pm at 88.7 FM, but anyone anywhere can tune in to the live stream from the WLUW website. And if you can’t catch it live, never fear – the full version of the interview will soon be archived at the site.

Check Out The Real Iron Lady

From what I can see, there are plenty of articles and reviews of the new Meryl Streep flick “The Iron Lady” touting her performance as Margaret Thatcher and emphasizing Thatcher’s victories in the man’s world of British politics. Too few, it seems to me, are actually taking any kind of look at Thatcher’s actual policies – and questioning whether or not this is a person we should be holding up as a feminist icon.

Before you see the film, please read this excellent piece by Laura Flanders for The Nation. Key line:

Today, in a new time of budget wars, The Iron Lady’s depiction of draconian cuts as feminist guts is chilling. What Thatcher called “harsh medicine” meant one thing for the poor and another for the very powerful then, and it still does. In both instances, there is hell to pay in social fabric.

Hyatt Threatens to Cut Off Workers’ Health Care

As I’ve written before, Chicago Hyatt workers have been negotiating for a fair contract with Hyatt for more than two years now. Sadly, Hyatt has refused to budge on crucial demands to curb subcontracting and ease working conditions for housekeepers—demands met by Hilton and other hotel employers citywide. In response, Hyatt workers have stood up and made tough sacrifices by striking and calling for hotel boycotts.

I’m now appalled to learn that Hyatt is currently threatening to strip health insurance from 1500 Chicago workers and their families unless they give up their fight and abandon their boycotts. In so doing, Hyatt is forcing workers to choose between their families’ immediate medical needs and a fight for their long-term survival.

Please join me in sending a message to Hyatt’s CEO Mark Hoplamazian to maintain Hyatt workers’ health insurance until they win a just settlement. Click here to sign the petition and please send it on.

Chicago Clergy Stand With Striking Hyatt Workers

Today marked the end of a week-long strike at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and Hyatt Regency McCormick Place  held simultaneously with Hyatt workers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu.  This morning I walked the picket line at the Hyatt Regency and had the honor of participating in an interfaith solidarity service with local Chicago clergy.  That’s me in the pic below, together with Rabbi Victor Mirelman (left) of West Suburban Temple Har Zion and Rabbi Larry Edwards (center) of Congregation Or Chadash. Above you can see Victor sounding the shofar in a dramatic start to our service.

As I’ve written before, the situation facing Hyatt workers in many cities throughout the country is deplorable. Hyatt has eliminated jobs, replaced career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers, and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remain.  Although the strike will be over today, the boycott of eighteen Hyatt hotels nationwide continues.

Again, I encourage you to read “Open the Gates of Justice: A Clergy Report on Working Conditions at Hyatt Hotels” for more information.  The report contains the direct testimony of hotel workers themselves, who speak eloquently to the injustices they endure – as well as their desire only to be valued as workers for the important work they do for Hyatt hotels.

At the interfaith service today, I read an “Avinu Malkeinu” High Holiday prayer that I reworked in honor of the striking Hyatt workers. Click below to read:

Continue reading

This Labor Day Support Your Public Workers!

This Labor Day I’d like to think globally and act locally.

Bowing to an increasing culture of all-out warfare on public sector jobs in our nation, the city council in my hometown of Evanston is currently considering privatizing up to twenty of its public services, including recreation programs, community health initiatives, information technology, the city vehicle fleet program, street maintenance and more.

Yes, even here in our supposedly “progressive” little town of Evanston, we’re not immune to the spreading disease that views “big government” as the source of all economic evils. This Labor Day, it seems a good time as any to make this point: a balanced budget is not a de facto virtue. Budgets are value-neutral. How we generate income and how we spend that income are inherently values-based decisions.

And on a purely practical level, I’m in full agreement with those who claim that balancing the budget by slashing government spending does not stimulate the economy. Given that we’re experiencing zero job growth – and probably will for some time to come – it seems to be doing the exact opposite. Indeed, Paul Krugman makes this point convincingly in today’s NY Times:

Although you’d never know it listening to the ranters, the past year has actually been a pretty good test of the theory that slashing government spending actually creates jobs. The deficit obsession has blocked a much-needed second round of federal stimulus, and with stimulus spending, such as it was, fading out, we’re experiencing de facto fiscal austerity. State and local governments, in particular, faced with the loss of federal aid, have been sharply cutting many programs and have been laying off a lot of workers, mostly schoolteachers.

I know our experience here in Evanston is being currently played out in any number of communities around the country: we are falling prey to a knee jerk, fear-based assumption that the only way to balance a budget is to cut spending. But there is certainly more then one way to slice a pie – and I would claim that doing it at the expense of public sector workers is not only economically unjust but economically irrational.

Click here to read how privatizing Evanston services would affect our workers – and why it would cost our city more in the long run. And if you are an Evanston resident, click here to sign a petition that calls on our city council to keep public services in the public’s hands.

May this Labor Day inspire us all to go forth and do the work of justice.

New Clergy Report: Workers Speak out on Hyatt Injustice

Please, please read the recently released “Open the Gates of Justice: A Clergy Report on Working Conditions at Hyatt Hotels.”

Readers of this blog know I’ve long been standing in solidarity with Hyatt workers who have called for boycotts at eighteen hotels across the US. We’ve watched with deep dismay as Hyatt, a multi-billion dollar corporation, has eliminated jobs, replaced career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers, and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remain.

The centerpiece of this new report is the direct testimony of hotel workers themselves, who speak eloquently to the injustices they endure – as well as their desire only to be valued as workers for the important work they do for Hyatt hotels. Their testimonies came from numerous interviews conducted by clergy from across the country who fervently believe that the struggle for worker justice is a central tenet of all of our faith traditions.

From the introduction to the report:

It is part of the purpose of this report to challenge the complacency that we and the mainstream religious community have previously exhibited to these business practices, to identify these practice as oshek/oppression, and to propose steps that we, as people of faith, can do to stand in solidarity with workers as they challenge their employers to live up to the ideals set by our religious traditions for more equitable workplaces and a more equitable society.

I was also thrilled to read enthusiastic support for the report in a recent Forward editorial:

(This) much is clear: The extensive documentation and textual support in the rabbinical report is a welcome addition to a growing number of efforts to link Jewish law and scholarship to timely social concerns. Advocates for the environment, labor, sustainable agriculture and development policy increasingly use Jewish language and teachings to frame their arguments. The rabbinic report on Hyatt calls social teachings on labor “the best kept secrets of our religious tradition.” Not anymore.

And click here to read a substantive feature on the report from the Boston Jewish Advocate that just came out today.

Hotel Workers Speak Out Against “Un Troussage De Domestique”

Having been involved in the Hyatt boycott here in Chicago, I’m familiar with the hotel chain’s increasingly abysmal record on worker safety. Now I’m learning that the issue of sexual assault against hotel workers in general has long been a serious problem, long predating the current unpleasantness with Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

On June 2, hotel workers held speak-outs on sexual harassment and assault by customers in eight cities. The events were organized by UNITE HERE, the hotel union.

“These customers think they can use us for anything they want, because we don’t have the power that they have or the money that they have,” said Yazmin Vazquez, a Chicago room attendant.

Hotel workers face injuries from the physical stress of their work, including the awkward lifting of heavy mattresses hundreds of times a day. But the hidden hazard of hotel work, housekeepers say, is customers’ assaults on their dignity and physical integrity.

Workers report that male customers expose themselves, attempt to buy sexual services, grab and grope them and, in some cases, attempt to rape them…

The management response has been “deafening silence,” (said Annemarie Strassel of UNITE HERE), adding that she’s aware of only one hotel in which a staff meeting was called around the issue.

(h/t: Susan Klonsky)