Category Archives: Unions

UNITE HERE and Hyatt Reach an Agreement!


Readers of this blog know I’ve long stood in solidarity with Hyatt hotel workers during their four year struggle for justice. (If you’d like a little history, you can read about it here, here, here and here, for instance.)

I’m thrilled to now learn that the Hyatt workers’ union, UNITE HERE has reached a national agreement with Hyatt. According to a union press release which came out yesterday, both UNITE HERE and Hyatt have hailed the agreement as “a positive step:”

The agreement will go into effect upon the settlement and ratification of union contracts by Hyatt associates in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago.  Pending associate approval, the contracts will provide retroactive wage increases and maintain quality health care and pension benefits.  The proposed new contracts would cover associates into 2018.A key provision of the agreement establishes a fair process, which includes a mechanism for employees at a number of Hyatt hotels to vote on whether they wish to be represented by UNITE HERE.  As part of the accord, upon ratification of the union contracts, UNITE HERE will end its global boycott of Hyatt.

D. Taylor, the president of UNITE HERE, said, “We look forward to a new collaborative relationship with Hyatt.  This agreement shows that when workers across the hotel industry stand together, they can move forward, even in a tough economy.  Both organizations deserve credit for working out this constructive step forward.”

“We are delighted that our associates in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Waikiki will have contracts and the pay raises that go with them,” said Doug Patrick, Senior Vice President, Human Resources for Hyatt.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that according to the agreement, about 5,000 workers would see pay and benefits packages rise an average of 4 percent a year. Regarding the issues of job safety and outsourcing (two key issues for the union), Chicago Public Radio reports “the new contracts will include no new safety language but will bring some outsourced work back to Hyatt.”

I’m delighted for the workers of Hyatt and it has been my honor to stand with them during the course of this long and difficult struggle. One important takeaway for me is the importance and effectiveness of boycotts as an essential tool of the labor movement. In particular, I hope organizations will increasingly insist upon protective language in their hotel contracts so that they can honor boycotts without penalty.

This campaign has also opened my eyes to the hard truth that labor justice is nowhere near the priority in the Jewish community that it once was. Indeed, the Hyatt boycott represented an important test to my community – and it is clear to me that there is much work left to be done. I wrote as much in the Jewish Forward last year when it was revealed that the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism had signed contracts with boycotted Hyatt Hotels for their conventions:

It is simply not enough to invoke the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and offer bland statements about the historic role Jews played in building the American labor movement. True solidarity means understanding that the struggle ever continues. And that there are flesh and blood “stakeholders” in our own day who call on us to support the sacred cause of worker justice.

Congratulations to UNITE HERE and to all those who stood in solidarity with the workers of Hyatt. And now the struggle continues…

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.

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.

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.”