Strike at Marriott Hotels in Boston

by Hugh Lee Fowler Schlesinger

Walker_100318_04hotelstrike_30551x

Workers and supporters picketed outside the Sheraton Boston Wednesday [photo credit:Boston Globe]

October 3, 2018

 UNITE HERE Local 26 began their city-wide strike at Marriott properties in Boston at 5am this morning.

Unite Here members at Marriott properties nation-wide (including in San Francisco, San Jose, Honolulu, Seattle, and Boston) voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize strikes if bargaining with Marriott failed to progress to a fair contract. These workers are rallying under the call that ‘One Job Should Be Enough‘ to demand pay and healthcare adequate to support a family in the cities where they work, job security, and safety and respect at work! The  Local 26 Bargaining Committee has determined that bargaining at Boston properties is not progressing to this goal, and has decided to utilize its power to call a strike!! This is the first ever hotel strike in Boston!

The union is striking for more protections as the industry undergoes major technological changes,  such as self-check-in kiosks and robot room service. Local 26 is also demanding that hotels  protect worker hours, provide more secure schedules, and improve sexual harassment protections and pregnancy accommodations.

“After five years of record profits and more than six months of contract talks, Marriott still doesn’t get it,” said Local 26 president Brian Lang . “It’s our work that creates the great experience for the hotel guests. We are the reason they keep coming back.”

Local 26 last held a strike in the fall of 2016, when dining hall workers at Harvard University walked off the job for 22 days

Picket lines will be maintained at all of the following properties from 7am-7pm:
-Aloft Boston, Seaport
-Element Boston, Seaport
-Ritz-Carlton, Boston Commons
-Westin Waterfront
-Westing Copley
-Sheraton Boston
-W Boston
Updates about actions and what we can do in solidarity with the striking workers to follow! Also, you can stay updated at: https://www.marriotttravelalert.org
Please try and find some time to walk the picket line in solidarity with these workers over the next few days.
SOLIDARITY AND POWER!!!

Stamford Hotel Workers Show How to Transform Our Unions and Rebuild the Labor Movement

 

Hilton workers and supporters after one of the workers' daily actions inside the hotel. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Hilton workers and supporters after one of the workers’ daily actions inside the hotel. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

It’s Saturday afternoon in December 2017 at the hotel workers’ union hall in Stamford, Connecticut, a mere two days before a scheduled union election at the Hilton Stamford. Where one would expect nerves and chaos, a quiet calm covers the hall. American unions have struggled for decades to successfully organize non-union workers, with the movement’s difficulties organizing workers only intensifying. Notwithstanding a recent small uptick amongst white-collar workers and scattered victories, unions have been unable to figure out how to organize US workers en masse. Recent high-profile election losses, much of the labor movement choosing not to even attempt elections and some unions beginning to experiment with minority unionism all evidence this struggle. The Hilton Stamford workers were attempting where many are failing and decreasingly few are even attempting.

The 130 workers of the Hilton Stamford faced all of the familiar challenges: The majority Haitian-immigrant workplace faced great legal intimidation in the form of Trump’s elimination of Temporary Protected Status, hotel ownership spent upwards of $1 million on a vicious union-busting campaign (including contracting Trump’s personal anti-union consultant and armed guards to patrol the hotel), and hotel ownership ran roughshod over the workers’ organizing rights throughout the campaign.

Nevertheless, pre-election Saturday afternoon at the hotel workers union hall was uncomfortably comfortable. Two days later, the workers’ confidence proved well founded, as Hilton Stamford workers obliterated the company’s anti-union campaign in voting 110 to 5 for the union.

Beyond the life-changing victory for the workers and their families, the Stamford hotel workers used an organizing formula different from anything most unions use today, ferociously overcoming the challenges most unions face. Victories are occurring elsewhere and tests still remain for the Stamford workers, but the sheer scale and ferocity of their victory indicates that how these workers bucked the trend holds unique insight into reversing American unions’ fortunes.

A flyer of Stamford Hilton housekeeper Ismanie Dat distributed amongst workers in response to the company using armed guards to patrol the hotel to intimidate workers. All flyers were created by volunteer workers.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)A flyer of Stamford Hilton housekeeper Ismanie Dat distributed amongst workers in response to the company using armed guards to patrol the hotel to intimidate workers. All flyers were created by volunteer workers. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

A flyer of Stamford Hilton bellman Dominique Jean Pierre distributed amongst workers after their election victory. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)A flyer of Stamford Hilton bellman Dominique Jean Pierre distributed amongst workers after their election victory. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Unions’ Organizing Challenge: External or Internal?

Unionists and academics frequently debate the cause of American unions’ declining size and their difficulties organizing, but the explanations typically given do not hold up under a bit of scrutiny. Most blame external forces beyond unions’ control, bemoaning the lack of legal protections for workers attempting to organize, the intensity of employers’ anti-union campaigns, or bad economic conditions that make organizing perilous. The problem with these explanations is that these conditions existed even more intensely at times when unions successfully expanded in the past.

Union leaders today decry the intensity of companies’ anti-union campaigns, particularly the widespread use of “union avoidance” consulting firms. Yet, today’s anti-union campaigns pale in comparison to the mass bloodshed, espionage and blacklisting workers overcame to organize in the 1930s. The hundreds of workers shot dead in successful organizing struggles in the 1930s certainly at least matches the intensity of today’s anti-union campaigns.

Union leaders today decry that employers run roughshod over workers’ rights enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Yet it was the hundreds of thousands of industry workers who organized (without any such legal protections in the first place) in the early 1930s prior to the NLRA that forced its passage in the first place — not to mention that involvement of “the law” during several previous organizing booms typically meant forceful repression from local police or the State and National Guard, much less enforcement of any organizing rights.

Union leaders today decry the precarious economic conditions facing workers and the difficulties of moving them to action with unemployment high and no safety net. Yet unions made perhaps their greatest organizing leap in the years immediately following the greatest economic crisis in the nation’s history.

Convinced of the notion that the obstacles to mass organizing are beyond their control,  many unions have resorted to experimenting with campaigns that seek to win union recognition without substantial worker organization, such as the SEIU’s high-profile and oft-celebrated fast-food worker campaign, which does not even attempt to mobilize a majority of workers in any workplace. Despite some scattered campaign victories, unions have been unable to generate the type of growth and movement needed to challenge the corporate stranglehold on US society through strategies based on things other than worker power, such as legislation, public relations, corporate research, etc. Try as they may to skirt the issue, the labor movement is unlikely to find a substitute for the irreplaceable core of workers’ power: collective action of a critical majority of workers in a workplace or industry. Fortunately, if workers overcame such challenges in the past, they can do so now as well.

If the outside forces confronting unions aren’t particularly new, something new within unions likely developed to make mass organizing stagnate. In this light, the Stamford hotel-workers union looked inwards to figure out how to organize more workers. Union leadership assessed that what’s changed since labor’s explosive organizing was a basic organizing formula: Instead of large groups of union workers going to organize even larger groups of non-union workers, unions came to depend on much smaller teams (or even individuals) of paid staff-organizers attempting to organize large groups of non-union workers. As American unions grew mid-century and established greater institutional footing, they also began to become more heavily bureaucratized and consequently more staff-driven; this applied to all facets of the union, but markedly bled into unions’ new organizing programs. The new formula of staff-driven organizing campaigns is plagued by obvious problems, such as a typically higher worker-to-organizer ratio, issues of “relatability” between organizers and non-union workers, and greater susceptibility to company propaganda that paints the union as a “third-party” or a business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, labor has made no significant leaps in size since the new formula has become commonplace, and Stamford’s hotel-workers union looked to change it.

Hilton worker committee along with Hyatt workers hold one of their weekly meetings to plan campaign tactics. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Hilton worker committee along with Hyatt workers hold one of their weekly meetings to plan campaign tactics. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton room service server Jaime Alvarez alongside his coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton room service server Jaime Alvarez alongside his coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize. (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Looking Inward: How Unions Can Change Their Organizing Formula

To organize the non-union Hilton Stamford, instead of relying on paid staff organizers, the union turned to rank-and-file members from nearby union workplaces. Shop stewards from the Hyatt Hotel and Royal Bank of Scotland cafeteria workforce, already members of the hotel workers’ union local, conducted an overwhelming majority of the organizing meetings, predominantly house calls to the non-union Hilton workers. Rather than simply riding along as sidekicks to a staff organizer, the volunteer rank-and-file organizers led the organizing visits and held responsibility (“turf,” in organizing parlance) for meeting weekly with non-union Hilton organizing contacts. Nearly 20 rank-and-file members of the union accepted responsibility for meeting weekly with a handful of the non-union workers respectively, convening in the union hall once a week to discuss how the previous week’s organizing meetings went and plan the next week’s meetings. Every evening, union stewards met at the union hall, paired up and dispatched out to the living rooms of non-union workers. The stewards strategically took responsibility for those non-union workers with which they had most in common. Union housekeepers visited non-union housekeepers to discuss the union and next steps, Haitian union members visited Haitian non-union workers, cooks visited cooks, Colombians reached out to Colombians, bellmen talked to bellmen, and so forth on a weekly basis.

The results were explosive. Within only a few months, the organizing team of rank-and-file members with little previous experience in non-union organizing built a rank-and-file committee in the Hilton Stamford of nearly 30 workers and signed up over 85 percent of the Hilton workforce on union membership cards. The causes of their success were clear: The rank-and-file union members easily built trusting connections with the non-union workers who came from similar backgrounds, did the exact same work every day and often even lived in the same neighborhoods. The non-union Haitian bellman from the Hilton more quickly confided in the Haitian bellman from the unionized Hyatt, and the trust necessary to commit to a risky organizing drive developed far more easily than it may have with a white staff organizer with no experience working in a hotel. Organizing conversations transitioned smoothly from commiserating about the difficulties of particular hotel jobs, to the challenges of immigration, to the need to make sacrifices to win the union. Moreover, the sheer numbers of organizers in the field were much greater than usual for the union. With nearly 20 rank-and-file volunteer organizers visiting the non-union workers every week, the ratio of organizer to worker was much better than what unions can typically afford to staff, and made crucial organizing visits with the non-union organizing committee more frequent.

Stamford Hilton cook Irwin Martinez alongside coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton cook Irwin Martinez alongside coworkers and Hyatt workers informs hotel management of their intent to unionize.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Stamford Hilton housekeepers deliver a poster to hotel management illustrating where their bodies feel pain due to excessive workloads as one of their daily actions.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)Stamford Hilton housekeepers deliver a poster to hotel management illustrating where their bodies feel pain due to excessive workloads as one of their daily actions.  (Photo: Unite Here Local 217)

Many union campaigns begin strong but quickly crumble under the weight of high-powered and sophisticated anti-union campaigns. Yet due to the union’s altered organizing formula, when the Hilton Stamford ownership invested millions of dollars to persuade the workers to vote against the union, none of the company’s anti-union propaganda worked. Despite hiring notorious “union avoidance” consultants Cruz and Associates, Donald Trump’s personal union-busters of choice at his hotels, as well as flying in over 20 managers, consultants and lawyers to live in the hotel and meet daily with each worker, none of the anti-union propaganda had any influence on the Hilton workers. The typical anti-union tropes that paint the union as a “third-party,” a business, or as simply wanting the workers’ dues money was hardly persuasive to workers who understood the union as the rank-and-file union members who’d been visiting them in their homes. Surely the housekeeper from down the block, from the same country, who performed the same job daily was in no way a business simply out for non-union workers’ money. The rank-and-file volunteers lacked most of the formal training of the highly professionalized staff organizer most common in unions today, but proved equally, if not more, effective. Despite an anti-union campaign even more enormous and lawbreaking than unions usually face, the Hilton Stamford workers voted to join the union with 96 percent of the vote.

If the outcome seems obvious given the number of rank-and-file volunteer organizers, less obvious may be how the union was able to generate so many volunteer organizers. This question is perhaps most important, given a changing political leadership amongst many unions where obstacles to rank-and-file involvement are less ideological and more practical. While many unions initially bureaucratized at the behest of conservative, self-serving leadership, many progressive unions today would like to reconfigure their organizing formula with more rank-and-file volunteers but face challenges doing so. Long removed from the rank-and-file upsurges of the 1930s and 1940s, most union staff and members today have only known the top-down, staff-driven model commonplace today. Despite a growing desire to reinvigorate membership participation, old habits are difficult to break, and most unions (staff and members) operate with the expectation that organizing is primarily the responsibility (and best done) by paid staff. Breaking these expectations, hardened by decades of repetition, is a difficult task.

The Stamford hotel workers union sought to reinvigorate rank-and-file organizing by reviving two practices that have been systematically sucked out of unions for decades, but that were foundational in the great labor upsurge that built the modern movement: militancy and democracy.

For example, at the inaugural United Automobile Workers convention in 1935, a meeting of rank-and-file organizers from around the country would propel American unions from their deathbed in the early 1930s to organizing over one-third of all American workers in just two decades. The pre-convention program published called for three central things: “militant action,” a “democratically controlled convention” with “free elections from the floor of a chairman and all committees by majority vote,” and “confidence in the organized power of labor.”

Believing in the twin pillars of democracy and militancy was one thing, but the more difficult task for the Stamford hotel workers was figuring out concretely how to implement them organizationally.

Prior to descending upon the non-union workers, the union began by focusing on the existing membership, implementing as democratic and militant a program as possible internally. Union leadership banked that if members felt real ownership of their organization, they would be more likely to take ownership of the organizing — but workers wouldn’t take ownership if their daily experience was that they had no actual ownership within the union. Thus, the union ran weekly stewards’ meetings where nearly everything was voted upon, no matter how minute.

“We voted on the weekly agenda, then on every single agenda item before moving on,” said Chief Shop Steward Dennis Fiore. “Some votes felt silly at times [if] the issues were so small or obvious, but if someone put it on the agenda, we figured it wasn’t silly to someone, and everyone’s opinion in the union is important.”

From what type of shop floor action to take to what type of union apparel to purchase, rank-and-file members were handed the reins for nearly all decisions that had previously been made exclusively by staff. Modern unions often rhetorically tell workers “they are the union” without actually letting them be the union and drive the organization. This changed with the Stamford hotel workers in exaggerated form, with an eye on speeding up the process of moving rank-and-file organizers into the non-union organizing.

Similarly, if members felt real day-to-day power on the shop-floor, the union posited, they would feel real incentive to take part in building that power by organizing. Shop-floor militancy, in the form of workplace actions to resolve everyday problems, built that sense of power. Most modern unions have allowed the grievance-resolution process to become heavily bureaucratized, with staff navigating a complex web of contractual and legal procedures in a lawyereqsue fashion alienating to the average worker. While issues can and are won for members in this arrangement, the system by design takes the struggle away from the shop-floor and the power out of the hands of the worker. Similar to the democracy strategy, the union implemented an issue resolution program focused on shop-floor action (rather than legalistic contract enforcement) in an exaggeratedly intense form. Every issue merited a workplace mobilization, with grievance meetings becoming nothing more than an arena for mass demonstrations. Soon, workers established a culture where workplace problems meant workers were expected to organize actions, rather than commence the legalistic, slow and physically-removed grievance procedure.

“After a little while, it just became the system,” said banquet server and shop steward Francisco Tobias. “If someone had an issue, we knew the only solution was to mobilize an action. We mobilize … over every little issue, but that’s the union.”

Not only were more issues resolved faster, but workers developed a deeper belief that the union was themselves rather than the staff, and that the power of the union lay with the workers rather than a contract — crucial developments in the union’s push to have the workers lead non-union organizing.

Emboldened by their newfound power within both the union and the workplace, the rank-and-file leaders of the union were primed to organize non-union workers nearby. When union staff pushed shop stewards to take responsibility for the organizing, they understood that they were the union leaders who had to do it and felt a compelling incentive to do so. It was internal democracy and militancy that led to rank-and-file members’ commitment to organize the unorganized, and the new organizing formula led to rapid results.

What the Stamford Model Can Teach a Labor Resurgence

The lesson from the Stamford hotel workers is that unions must return to their roots as worker organizations — member-run and member-powered. The organizing cliché that “there are no shortcuts” applies in the most fundamental sense; no amount of staff expertise or clever strategy will succeed in rebuilding the labor movement so long as unions remain more like service organizations than actual worker-run organizations. Politics, public relations and corporate research — the focus of most current staff-heavy union efforts toward a resurgence — can supplement mass worker mobilization, but can never replace it as the spine of union power.

To begin a real process of rebuilding and growth, unions must first look internally as the Stamford hotel workers’ union did. Without a democratic and militant internal organization, unions will continue to be unable to mobilize the number of rank-and-file organizers needed to create a real movement.

Moreover, without a democratic and militant internal organization, unions could grow their membership and still be weak, as the labor movement’s lack of internal democracy currently leaves it unable to mobilize a significant portion of its membership. American unions still have nearly 15 million members; it is not difficult to imagine the potential influence labor could wield if capable of mobilizing merely half of that membership in a general strike or march on Washington. When Gov. Scott Walker essentially outlawed public-sector unionism in Wisconsin and unions either did not or could not fight back with a significant strike, what was already obvious should have become unavoidably clear: Labor’s internal petrification has left it unable to mobilize its own members, its ultimate weapon in both action and organizing. If unions couldn’t strike with their heads on the chopping block, when could they?

Yet, the ultimate lesson from the Stamford hotel workers is one of hope. If unions can figure out how to mobilize their members to organize non-union workers, the formula is explosive, since the conditions for workers in this country are increasingly atrocious. Nothing corporations and their political lapdogs can do in this country can eliminate the reality that they depend entirely on workers for their wealth. With still nearly 15 million members, a turn inwards to reorganize their ranks could yield unions a huge army of workers in the streets and in the living rooms of non-union workers. A democratic and militant worker organization overwhelmed the wealthy elite and built a vibrant labor movement once before in this country, and as the Stamford hotel workers showed, it can be done again today.

Copyright, Truthout. Reposted with the permission of the author. 

Andrew Tillett-Saks is a labor organizer and writer based in New York City, as well as vice president of the Connecticut hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 217. Andrew can be contacted at andrewtillettsaks@gmail.com or @andrewtsaks on Twitter.

Why U.S. Unions Must Organize Globally

by Carl Proper

Global_union-GUF_logo

“If a worker in China or India can do the same work as one in the United States, then the laws of economics dictate that they will end up earning similar wages….  That’s good news for overall economic efficiency, for consumers, and for workers in developing countries – but not for workers in developed countries who now face low-cost competition.”

“New World Order:  Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy”; Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence; Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2014

Academics have described the world.  The point, however, is to change it.

The world the capitalists have created is irreversibly global.  As they scan the world for the cheapest qualified labor, a global workforce scours the planet for opportunity.  From the perspective of a global capitalist, U.S. workers differ from workers in other parts of the world mainly in their cost.  For manufacturing industries, this means sending the work where labor is cheapest.  For hotel and some other service workers, by contrast, wage competition is local. Hotels catering to the global wealthy can afford to pay above-average wages.  But competition for better-paid jobs will grow fiercer as other wages fall.  No industry or union can indefinitely escape the pressure of low global wages.  Over time, national differences will decline, and wages will tend to equalize in services as well as manufacturing.

Without global solidarity, they will not equalize up.

In my original union, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union / ILGWU, for almost a century, organizers “followed the bundle,” as employers ran from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Pennsylvania and New England, and eventually to Los Angeles and Atlanta.  And early generations of internationally-minded, immigrant labor leaders like Sam Gompers, John L. Lewis, Sidney Hillman, David Dubinsky and Jay Lovestone understood Europe as part of their territory.  They were comfortable meeting with unionists – and national Presidents — there.  But for their U.S.-born successors, foreign was foreign.  Organizing stopped at the water’s edge.

U.S. union “demands,” of course, are much less welcomed by most overseas governments than employer dollars.  But mostly, we have simply not imagined a better world, or considered that within the range of business unionism.  With the heroic exception of the 1999 “Battle in Seattle,” we have not demanded that U.S. labor or human rights accompany U.S. job exports.

Today, we are overpowered, when not ignored, by worldly corporate honchos.  And we are in steady decline as nominally American corporations expand even in formerly communist nations like China or Vietnam.

I believe that Unions, like all organizations in our time, must globalize or die.  If global parity is destiny, as the authors quoted above assert, only global solidarity can equalize wages up.

Is global working class cooperation possible? 

Most U.S. trade unionists dismiss this out of hand.  But I have seen global solidarity succeed among workers and governments — and it works.
https://wordpress.com/post/talkingunion.wordpress.com/2816

Half a century ago, I was a Peace Corps community organizer in a Panama City squatter community.  My most savvy and committed fellow-organizer was communist (“Partido del Pueblo”) bus driver and union leader Carlos Zorita – “Camacho” to all who knew him.  He read books.  And he had balls.  I was his “Ugly American” friend.  On the massive front bumper of his bus were the words “Realidad Objetiva.”  He understood the sociology of his country and the world.  He was sympathetic to the left-oriented military dictator, Omar Torrijos, who took power eleven days after the election — for the third time in forty years — of pro-fascist coffee plantation owner Arnulfo Arias.  When now-President Torrijos came to our neighborhood to speak with the people, Camacho was the only resident with the nerve to stand next to the General and propose what our “Betterment Committee” had formulated:  residents wanted sewage lines, paved roads and, eventually, title to the land.  Torrijos’ wealthy successor, Ricardo de la Espriella (then in Torrijos’ cabinet) walked our muddy streets with our betterment committee.  Torrijos listened.    Over the next few years, all this was done.  U.S. A.I.D. provided a share of the funding.

It was a win-win for global cooperation, U.S. — and labor — values.

Also accomplished, over the next few years, on a larger playing field:  a shift in control over the Panama Canal from the U.S. to Panama, as negotiated by Torrijos and U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Despite predictions of catastrophe under Latino management, U.S. and global shipping are unharmed. The Canal has been successfully widened.  U.S.-Panama relations are good.

No harm, no foul – no loser.  The doubters were wrong.  All humans are created equal.

When I visited the old neighborhood two years ago, I did not hear complaints of Yankee imperialism.  With paved streets and modern water infrastructure, homeowners had improved the cinder-block houses they had once built and now legally owned.  They had become the struggling middle class, friendly to the U.S.A..

Would they, or other Panamanian workers, object to joining a U.S.- based union, and building strength, with the understanding that a truly International union was the goal?  In my view, no.­­­  U.S. Labor’s isolation and decline reflect no defeat by global capitalism or global working-class anti-imperialism.  We have surrendered to our own fear and ignorance, without a fight.  Afraid to grow, we have begun to die. What is wrong with “workers of the world, unite!”?

For a union with global ambition and imagination, Panama, the crossroads of the world, is an obvious organizing opportunity.

Hotels and casinos could be perfect early targets.  Every U.S. hotel chain has one or several hotels in Panama.  U.S. President Donald Trump owns two hotels, and several other buildings.  Casinos catering to global travelers prosper.  Panama City could be a base for a UNITE HERE VP, on a par with San Francisco or Las Vegas.  And after success in Panama, a truly “International” union could look to Costa Rica Argentina, and Vietnam.  Why would they not?

Victory for UNITE HERE in Panama could mark a turning point for U.S. labor.  We might salvage our long-term future by going global like every other organization.

But UNITE HERE, like other U.S. unions, has no Panama affiliate.  We have not challenged global hotel chains on a global basis.  We are, as the story goes, more sensitive than capitalists to the patriotic sentiments of people in other countries.  But what if the people would actually prefer a U.S. standard of living?  How would we even know?

I believe the barrier to global unions is maintained by our parochial union leaders, each with his or her established (and shrinking) turf.  Most seem unmotivated or baffled by the thought of challenging capital on its limitless turf.

Does this matter?  I would say that if U.S. and Panamanian representatives could work together to turn a squatter neighborhood into a middle-class community, or an imperialist Canal Zone into a highly efficient point of pride for that nation; and if nominally “U.S.” corporations can manage much of Panama’s economy; then U.S. labor must not fear organizing Hyatt, or Trump, or Hilton wherever they roam.

Why should we not look forward to a Mexican President of the UAW, or a Hong Kong Vice President of SEIU?  Are we really concerned about appearing “imperialist?”   Or do we simply know so little about the world that we are afraid to put our toes in the global water?

If we cannot follow, we will not survive.

Is asking U.S. labor to go global like asking a hippopotamus to fly?

Ask any capitalist.  You grow or die.  There is a lot of evidence that today’s U.S. labor movement, after inheriting the fruits of a century of struggle, is dying for lack of respect and innovation.  We must return to pursuing capital, as we did in our glory days, wherever it goes.

Globally.

Carl

Carl Proper was a member and staff member for the ILGWU, UNITE and UNITE HERE for forty years. After leaving the Peace Corps, he took a job as a cloth spreader in a union factory, and was hired from there as an Organizer. He served at various times as Organizer, Educational Director and Business Agent for the New England Joint Board; and as Assistant and Executive Assistant to ILGWU and UNITE President Jay Mazur.  He lives in Bethesda, MD. He can be reached at cproper2@gmail.com

Dining Hall Workers at Harvard Win Strike

by Paul Garver

huds-march

Harvard University Dining Hall workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 26, will return to work in two days following the successful resolution of a 3-week-long strike.and an expected member ratification vote.

The new contract will include a guaranteed annual salary of $35,000 and no increase in health insurance payments.

The workers enjoyed considerable support from Harvard students, from the local community and from other labor unions.   More than a thousand rallied and marched in support on 22nd October.   As a participant, I found the lively and racially diverse support march from Cambridge Common to the Cambridge City Hall to be a most spirited and upbeat labor demonstration.

Members of other UNITE HERE locals from as far away as Philadelphia and Atlantic City took part, as did Boston-area SEIU locals.   Young Democratic Socialist (YDS) members like Tom Dinardo from Philadelphia accompanied UNITE HERE delegations.

Spencer Brown,  a member of the Young Democratic Socialists at Wesleyan University, stated that he was also there to support food service workers organizing at Connecticut universities.

The Harvard-based Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) played a leading role in strike support, organizing large-scale student walkouts from classes and a 250 student occupation of the lobby of the Harvard administration building where contract negotiations were in their final phase.

As a long-term labor organizer, with whom the concept of an alliance between students and campus workers was first discussed during the Harvard strike of 1969, I observe that the strength and depth of alliances between students, even at elite universities, with campus workers of many types (even contingent faculty members!), is becoming more natural and organic as many students expect to be also subjected to precarious employment.

And the dining hall workers have are crediting the success of their struggle in part to the support they received from students, community members and other labor unions. But, of course, the workers themselves, their families, and their UNITE HERE local remain the bedrock.

Hotel Housekeepers Join Global Campaign

by Paul Garver

PakistanGHSKC

In Lahore, Pakistan, 55 housekeepers make up 600 rooms at the five star Pearl Continental Hotel. Only 17 of the 55 housekeepers are permanent. Only one of the 17 permanent workers is a women and another 12 women are employed on a precarious basis.

During their shift housekeepers are only allowed a 30 minute “free lunch”. It is the only break in 10 hours. While working 10 hour shifts alone every day, handling loaded trolleys weighing in excess of 50 kilograms, women housekeepers face a range of serious health, safety and security issues. Even after working for 5 to 10 years the legal minimum wage of PKR 12,000 (USD 117) per month is the maximum wage for precarious women housekeepers.

On learning about the IUF’s Global Housekeeping Campaign for housekeepers’ dignity, a woman housekeeper said: “After learning about the IUF Global Campaign for Housekeepers I now believe as housekeepers we will be able to live a better and decent life too.”

Hidden within magnificent luxury hotels as well as more modest establishments throughout the world,
housekeepers are the foundation of the hospitality business. Yet for all the skill and hard work they bring to guests and employers, their contribution is scandalously undervalued. Housekeepers are now challenging their invisible status, speaking out against abusive working conditions and calling on the global hotel industry to recognize their contribution and their rights. From December 3-10, hotel housekeepers in more than 25 countries around the world are holding a Global Week of Action to highlight their situation and to demand a safe, secure working environment from a global industry which rests on their efforts. “The campaign puts the reality of the sector up front, on the table”, tells Kelly from Argentina, who has
been working as a housekeeper for 18 years.

Housekeepers perform exhausting daily tasks for low pay and little or no employment
security. The vast majority are women, often migrants. Their vulnerability exposes
them to a multitude of health, safety and security risks: risks to their bodies from
repetitive, heavy tasks, sexual abuse, exploitation by unscrupulous employers who
often fiercely resist union organization, outsourcing schemes that shield employers
from responsibility and further degrade working conditions and insufficient or totally
lacking legal and social security. Few guests would imagine that housekeepers have
one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and sickness of any occupational
group. “I am already stressed before I start working, since I don’t know how many
rooms and beds are expected to be cleaned”, reports Sofie from Sweden, 29 years
old. I never know if I have time to take my break because I can only get to it all if I
skip my break.”

The week of activities, organized through the IUF’s ‘Make up my workplace!’
campaign for healthy, safe and dignified working conditions for housekeepers will
culminate in an international press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December
12th, where images from the week will be displayed and housekeepers will tell their
stories of work and struggle.

“The campaign has made me aware that the pain I feel in my body is not a personal matter but a workplace issue”, says a South African housekeeper. Their hopes and their determination to fight for change are echoed by housekeepers around the world. “The hotel companies want to deliver five-star service with two star jobs. At my hotel, we all got together and joined the union and that has made all the difference. Room attendants need to stand together around the world so that, together, we can fulfil our dreams for ourselves and our families”, says Josie, 37, from Canada.

Housekeepers at American five-star hotels face the same challenges. Housekeepers at the Harvard University-owned Doubletree Suites hotel recently went on strike for union recognition and the right to bargain for better conditions.

Unite Here Campaign Takes Flight at Baltimore-Washington Airport

by Bruce Vail

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

On December 6, workers rallied outside of Prospect Capital Corporation, which owns the company that handles most of the concessions at Baltimore-Washington Airport. (Unite Here)

During President Barack Obama’s December 4 speech about income inequality to the Center for American Progress, he named “airport workers” among the many Americans who struggle with low wages and long hours. It’s unlikely that Obama was aiming his shout-out at union campaigners at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)—but given their recent flurry of activity, maybe he should have been.

At BWI, Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers throughout the United States and Canada, is ramping up its organizing campaign to a critical stage. The campaign focuses on food and service workers in the airport, most of whom would easily match Obama’s description of Americans who “work their tails off” at poverty level wages.

Yaseen Abdul-Malik is one of those BWI workers. Now 28, he was first recruited by the Baltimore-based Unite Here Local 7 two years ago, when organizing at BWI was largely clandestine. Now, he’s become a public face for airport employees—and he says he’s trying to “break the shackles of fear” that hold many of them back from demanding the better wages and working conditions they deserve. Continue reading

IBEW Chimes In with Obamacare Concerns

By Bruce Vail

In a new ad campaign, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) asks the President to close Obamacare loopholes that would leave many construction workers without coverage.   (From the IBEW website)

In a new ad campaign, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) asks the President to close Obamacare loopholes that would leave many construction workers without coverage. (From the IBEW website)

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) added its voice last week to the growing number of labor unions with complaints about how President Barack Obama is handling implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), better known as Obamacare.

The 725,000-member IBEW released a white paper on July 11 calling for changes to how the law treats multi-employer plans (also known as Taft-Hartley plans). These plans, which are jointly administered by unions and their employers, are endangered by the ACA because it will discourage employers from participating in the plans, and place some existing union employers at a financial disadvantage. The health insurance of more than 350,000 IBEW members covered by such plans is at risk, says IBEW spokesperson Jim Spellane. Continue reading

UFCW Expected To Rejoin AFL-CIO in August

 

Mike Elk reports in In These Times that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union will rejoin the AFL-CIO.

High-level sources within the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions tell Working In These Times that the 1.3-million-member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is in talks to rejoin the labor federation. These sources say that UFCW leaders have pledged their support for returning to the AFL-CIO and will ask members to vote on the question at the annual UFCW convention in Chicago this August. With the leadership backing reunification, the UFCW membership is expected to approve the motion.

In 2005, the UFCW and several other large unions—the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Brotherhood Of Carpenters, the Laborers’ UnionUnite Here and the United Farm Workers of America—split off from the AFL-CIO to form a rival federation, Change to Win. At the time, the unions said they were departing in order to explore new ways of organizing. Continue reading

SCOTUS and the Uncertain Future of Organized Labor

English: United States Supreme Court building ...

(June 27) This has been a blockbuster week for the Supreme Court to say the least. With DOMA, Proposition 8, Title VII, and affirmative action decisions dominating the coverage, few have taken note of the Supreme Court’s move on Monday to grant review to a set of cases that could strike a severe blow to private sector union organizing.

The first case, Noel Canning, challenges the ability of the President to make recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board when the Senate has technically kept itself in session. Due to GOP obstruction in the Senate, the NLRB has for years struggled to maintain a three-member quorum. The Supreme Court held in New Process Steel that, absent such a quorum, the NLRB cannot legally rule on cases brought before it. If the Supreme Court decides that the President’s recess appointments to the NLRB are unlawful, the NLRB will become basically non-functional for as long as Senate Republicans continue to deny the NLRB a quorum by blocking new appointments to the agency. In a world with a non-functional NLRB, private sector unions will find themselves with nowhere to turn when employers illegally coerce, intimidate, and otherwise unlawfully obstruct organizing campaigns. Continue reading

Unions, Money, and Mergers

by Carl Proper

Carl Proper

Carl Proper

Money matters to unions. Financial resources are hard to obtain, easy to waste, and essential to union survival. Historically, the effort to accrue or protect a financial foundation has also caused many internal union conflicts, mergers and failures.

Capital’s obvious understanding of the power that derives from fiscal strength explains, among other realities, the persistent – and recently successful — efforts of labor’s corporate enemies to de-fund unions through blocking dues collection. Union leaders, unfortunately, are often untrained and unskilled in managing this critical resource, and may think it is inappropriate or unnecessary for them to learn. Through mismanagement of money, they may defeat the purpose for which they presumably became leaders in the first place – serving their members, or the working class.

This history recounts a struggle between two great and historically progressive unions over leadership, organizing jurisdiction (itself a form of property rights), and inherited financial resources. I focus here on financial issues, not because they were the core of the struggle, but because they are seldom discussed, and critical to labor’s history and future. I will also focus on the roles of labor leaders, who are the financial decision-makers, rather than on the rank and file. In later chapters, questions of leadership character, membership involvement and exploitation, and jurisdictional issues will get their due. One conclusion that I would reach, however, is that open discussion of money matters with union members produces better decisions than haste and secrecy. Continue reading