Category Archives: Unions

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.

Chicago Hyatt Propaganda – The Workers Respond!

I’ve written about my support of the Hyatt hotel boycott in the past – now here’s a powerful way you can learn about the issues at stake.

Not long ago, Hyatt Chicago produced a slick film entitled “An Important Message to Our Valued Employees” (above) that cynically smears the the Chicago Hyatt workers’ union (Unite Here Local 1). Among it’s many uses, apparently the film has played on an continuous loop in the staff cafeteria, where employees are compelled to watch a professional actor slam their union, claiming that Unite Here has a “a national agenda” that “nothing to do” with them.

Now Unite Here has produced a response (below). In addition to being a hilarious satire of the Hyatt video, it contains important history and context to the Hyatt workers struggle. I encourage you to watch the Hyatt clip first and then click on the one below. Despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of their message, the workers’ video provides an important reminder of the daunting challenges working women and men are facing in the current national climate.

Check out the Hotel Workers Rising website for the latest news on the Hyatt boycott nationwide.

Wisconsin Then and Now

Please check out these two wonderful pieces about the current labor struggles in Wisconsin by Leon Fink, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, JRC member, and a member of our recent trip to Israel/Palestine. (You may recall he posted about his experiences on our tour for this very blog.)

In a piece he wrote for the News & Observer last month, Leon offers a profoundly important history lesson about The Wisconsin Idea – “a forward-looking set of policies developed under four Republican governors (most notably Robert M. La Follette and Francis McGovern) that proved a blueprint for a nationwide Progressive Era.”

(The Wisconsin Idea) helped lift Wisconsinites from the doldrums of the great depression of the 1890s into a prosperous “mixed” economy combining the resources of farm and factory with science, engineering and human welfare expertise rooted in a state university system centered in Madison.

The policy initiatives were legion. After years of retrenchment, Wisconsinites turned to “tax fairness” as a way of redistributing the burden for vital government services, inaugurating an inheritance tax on the rich and raising rates for railroads, insurance companies and utilities. The wage-earners of the state – recognized as suffering under “unequal conditions of contract” – were rewarded with pioneering statutes in worker’s compensation, health and safety regulations and extension schools for adult education…

It was a formula that soon made Wisconsin the envy of the nation on questions ranging from taxation to industrial relations to land use policy. All told, the Wisconsin Idea suggested that through a close working relationship among major stakeholders, as pioneer labor economist John R. Commons put it, “order, intelligence, care, and thought could be exercised by the state.”

(What else is there to say except the times they have a’changed?)

The second piece is an op-ed from today’s Chicago Trib. The title really says it all: “Et Tu Barack? The President Takes a Powder on Workers’ Plight.”

Leon begins by noting Obama’s visible absence amidst legions of Democrats (and even some Republicans) who showed up at a mass protest against WI Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting bill in Madison last Saturday.

For those who had such high hopes that Obama would truly fight for the working men and women of this country (see clip above) the answers are not pretty. As Leon sadly concludes:

People in the streets in Madison recognize the need for shared sacrifice. All they see is the rich and powerful taking their pound of flesh from the poor and weak. For Democrats and workers, Gov. Walker has become the poster child for the raid on their democratic rights and standard of living. However, one wonders how long it will be until the attention is turned to that man behind the curtain.

This is Why Unions Matter

Many are saying that the battle in Wisconsin is, at long last, shedding some much needed light on the critical role unions play in our economy and in the lives of real working people. If that’s actually so, I’d say it’s high time.

A few recent insights on the subject that are well worth taking to heart. First, from Kevin Drum, writing in Mother Jones:

Of course unions have pathologies. Every big human institution does. And anyone who thinks they’re on the wrong side of an issue should fight it out with them. But unions are also the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power. They’re the only large-scale movement left that persistently acts in the economic interests of the middle class.

Robert Reich, who blogged two years ago on the reasons unions are so central to the health of our economy:

The American middle class isn’t looking for a bailout or a handout. Most people just want a chance to share in the success of the companies they help to prosper. Making it easier for all Americans to form unions would give the middle class the bargaining power it needs for better wages and benefits. And a strong and prosperous middle class is necessary if our economy is to succeed.

Mik Moore, on unions and the 21st century Jewish community:

Warren Jacobson is the president of the Madison chapter of the Zionist Organization of America. He is middle class. Conservative. Mid-Western. And for 18 years, a union member and government worker.

In 2010, he voted for Scott Walker. But when asked by a JTA reporter if he supported the Governor’s effort to effectively neuter the state government employees’ union, he said no. He had experienced anti-Semitism and discrimination. Unions might not be perfect, he acknowledged, but:

“I want someone supporting me.”

His statement is a powerful distillation of why unions remain vital. Without a union, each worker is on his or her own. They must fend for themselves. And more often than not, they will lose…

We are fooling ourselves if we think unions are no longer important to maintaining and growing the large Jewish middle class. They are. Jacobson is more typical than we realize.

And finally, Rabbi Jill Jacobs offers a trenchant historical reminder in Religion Dispatches:

Almost exactly a century ago, on March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went up in flames, killing 146 people, mostly immigrant women workers. The management had locked exit doors and stairwells to prevent workers from leaving early. As a result, workers trying to escape the fire were forced to jump from as high as the tenth floor, or simply to wait and smolder to death.

At a gathering in the Metropolitan Opera House a few days after the fire, labor organizer Rose Schneiderman rallied the crowd with the following words:

“Every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us… I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves.”

Schneiderman understood that more was at stake in the days following the catastrophe than fire safety regulations. Instead, she argued that only a strong union movement would guarantee workers a safe and dignified workplace in the long run…

Governor Walker and his billionaire supporters are on the verge of destroying the labor movement in America. If that happens, workers will lose most negotiating power, wages will fall, and many more of us will lose our health insurance and other benefits. If Rose Schneiderman were here today, she would tell us, “It’s up to us to save ourselves.”