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by Linda Bloom

Reposted from the UMConnections blog

umns13 198 1 Connections United Methodists take heart in labor agreement

(From left) the Revs. Marti Scott, Chuck Dauhm, Michael Shanahan and C.J. Hawking line up (risking arrest) in support of Hyatt workers in Chicago. A web-only photo by Luis Juarez

They prayed at the picket line, listened to workers’ stories, sent delegations to meet with management and supported a boycott.

So when UNITE HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the United States and Canada, recently reached a tentative labor agreement with the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, United Methodists were pleased.

The Rev. Israel Alvaran, who helped organize denominational support in northern California, said he was inspired by workers willing to take risks and make sacrifices so a global corporation would hear their concerns. “This was a David and Goliath fight,” he declared.

The Rev. C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist pastor and executive director of Arise, Chicago, agreed the workers, “really put up a valiant fight.” Two other hotel chains, Starwood and Hilton,already had signed agreements with workers that “provide safe working conditions and limit outsourcing,” she said.

The agreement reached July 1 will go into effect upon the settlement and ratification of union contracts by Hyatt associates in San Francisco, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to UNITE HERE. Key provisions include retroactive wage increases and a fair process mechanism for a union vote.

UNITE HERE will end its global boycott of Hyatt when the contracts are ratified. Hyatt agreed to a fair process for workers in some hotels immediately, but not in other hotels, said Ross Hyman, who was assigned by the AFL-CIO to work with religious supporters in Chicago. “In those hotels, the boycott will continue, even though the global boycott has ended,” he clarified.

Both the California-Nevada and Northern Illinois annual (regional) conferences of The United Methodist Church officially have supported the hotel workers. That’s in keeping with the denomination’s Social Principles and resolutions said John Hill, who oversees work on economic and environmental justice for the denomination’s Board of Church and Society.

Those principles are clear about rights of workers, including the need for a living wage and the right to bargain collectively, he pointed out. Whether they provide housekeeping services in hotels or harvest crops on farms, “we take our lead from the workers who are struggling to improve their own lives and conditions,” Hill said.

Chicago picket lines

In the Chicago area, about 7,000 Hyatt workers had been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2009. The economic boycott there targeted the Park Hyatt on the Magnificent Mile, Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive and the Hyatt O’Hare.

The Rev. Teran Loeppke, a deacon in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, wrote the legislation adopted in 2011 that created the conference’s Hyatt Boycott Monitoring and Organizing Committee and supported the worker-led boycott of 16 Hyatt properties in the United States.

“I think we were one of the pieces of the comprehensive effort that has led to this whole tentative agreement,” Loeppke said. “Anytime dedicated clergy and lay people get together to really focus in a concerted way…good things have the opportunity to happen.”

Because the Hyatt headquarters are in Chicago, having the conference representing United Methodists in the city honor the boycott made it “that much more significant,” Hyman noted.

“Methodists also played a role in trying to reach out to other organizations for them to honor the boycott,” he added. When religious scholars meeting in Chicago last fall moved the headquarters hotel further from the convention center, United Methodists helped organize a Sabbath walk to accompany Orthodox Jews “so that everyone would be walking together.”

Other actions included picketing and prayer, including a “flash prayer” event in the Hyatt Regency lobby. “We just really prayed and prayed, with complete earnestness, really valuing the collective prayer in the public square,” Hawking said. “Stating that God’s presence was there was very powerful for management to hear and the workers to hear as well.”

When religious delegations went to see Hyatt management, the workers often sent “thank you” messages as they waited, noted the Rev. Betty Jo (B.J.) Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, pastor of Incarnation United Methodist Church in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“Seeing that actually the church would be a presence for justice for them and come into their struggle meant so much to the people that I talked with,” she said.

Hawking and Birkhahn-Rommelfanger were among those able to get passes “to go to back of house” at the Hyatt hotel to interview workers during their lunch hour. Jewish groups led the effort to publish a clergy report, “Open the Gates of Justice,” on working conditions at Hyatt hotels.

Hawking remembers talking with one of the employees, a pastry chef and single mom. “She literally stood for 8 to 10 hours every day over her work table,” she said. “It was very powerful to be in the back of the house like that and to see a glimpse of what their lives were like.”

Support and solidarity in California

As in Chicago, United Methodists in the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference have focused on support and solidarity for Hyatt workers, Alvaran explained. A member of the Philippines Central Conference, he has helped organize interfaith support for workers in northern California since 2007.

In San Francisco, the union allowed them to bring clergy to organizing meetings “to provide that ministry of presence and assurance that all will be well, you don’t have to fear,” he said.

Alvaran believes the new tentative contract is a “huge” accomplishment, particularly in terms of a neutrality agreement that provides a “hands off” approach as workers decide how they want to organize. But, it doesn’t apply to every hotel in the area, such as the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf, which is no longer owned by the Hyatt corporation. The California-Nevada Conference approved a resolution in endorsing a worker-led boycott of the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf in 2009.

Before the 2013 annual conference meeting in June at the Sacramento Hyatt, Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., discussed the denomination’s position on labor issues with both with union leaders and management.

“We took seriously our responsibility to respect our relationships with our neighbors,” Brown told United Methodist News Service. “We met with representatives of the labor movement that have concerns about working conditions for hotel workers and we met with the general manager and the human resources manager of the Hyatt property.”

Several factors influenced the conference’s decision to have its 2014 annual session at a unionized hotel, the Hyatt Burlingame. Brown — whose parents, now retired, were both union members — was particularly pleased the contract with that hotel includes protective language that allows cancellation without penalty in the event of a labor dispute and he urged other annual conferences to do the same.

Including what is known as a force majeure clause in their hotel contracts, allowing them to move to another hotel if a boycott or worker action occurs, is the best way for church groups to help hotel workers, Hyman said, “because of the enormous consumer power that they wield.”

Alvaran said that conferences could check the union’s website to see if hotels in a particular city are under a worker boycott.

*Linda Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe. Contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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by Rev. John H Thomasjohn_thomas CTU photo

Two articles in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune provided a revealing, if unintended reminder of the injustices lying at the heart of America’s public schools.  At New Trier High School in one of the wealthier suburbs of Chicago, all students will have iPads for their course work by the Fall of 2014.  The district will pay about 40% of the costs, leaving families to come up with the remaining $350 in purchase or leasing options.  School officials justify this by touting the educational benefits and by pointing out that this will allow the school to phase out some of its 1200 laptops.  One page away is an article about the school board of the City of Chicago which voted yesterday afternoon to close 50 public elementary schools.  In thousands of districts like New Trier, students are getting iPads; in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and many other places, students are getting moving orders and teachers are losing jobs.

Later on in the same paper The Tribune revealed its editorial bias, offering Mayor Rahm Emmanuel space to justify the closings, while devoting its editorial to a cynical and shameful attack on Chicago teachers.  Praising the “heroic” teachers who saved lives in Moore, Oklahoma, The Tribune called on teachers in Chicago to abandon their protest against the massive school closings and become “heroes” by obediently implementing the policies of the Chicago Public School Board and its leader, the Mayor.  Excuse me!  Chicago Public School teachers are already heroes.  They don’t need the condescension of The Tribune.  And they don’t need to be unjustly demeaned as less worthy than teachers in Moore.  Today they need our gratitude for speaking the truth about the nature and impact of these school closings.

Unlike the teachers in Moore, Chicago teachers’ schools are not gone because of some capricious act of nature.  They are gone because of decades of very deliberate decisions by public officials, corporate interests and ordinary citizens that have eviscerated the neighborhoods of Chicago, displacing people with the demolition of public housing, gutting communities with foreclosures and the elimination of jobs.  The schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions.  The schools are gone because poor African Americans and Hispanics in Chicago are disenfranchised by school governance that is appointed by the mayor with limited accountability to the communities.  The schools are gone because public funding in this country remains tied to real estate taxes that benefit wealthy suburbs at the expense of the urban core.  The schools are gone because years of school reforms imposed from the latest outside savior have left front line teachers abused and demoralized and their students underachieving.  And the schools are gone because white flight that began decades ago has left the cities brown and black and poor.

Who makes decisions about public schools today?  The President who attended the prestigious Punahou private school in Hawaii and who sends his daughters to the University of Chicago Laboratory School and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington.  The Secretary of Education who attended the same Lab School in Chicago.  An appointed school board whose membership until recently included billionaire Penny Pritzker, now the appointee to be Secretary of Commerce.  She attended the Castilleja School in Palo Alto where 415 girls in grades six to twelve enjoy the attention of 70 full and part time faculty members.  In Chicago that school would be deemed “underutilized.”  And where do the Mayor’s kids go to school?  No threats from school closings for them.  They, too, are at the University of Chicago Lab School.  These powerful gurus of public school reform didn’t go to public schools and don’t send their children to public schools.  They benefited from the growing educational apartheid in this country and they participate in it today.

I don’t suggest that these policy makers sat down and said, “Let’s close the schools of poor Black and Hispanic kids in Chicago and make sure that New Trier kids have iPads.”  But here are the facts:  The schools closed today in Chicago are 88% black, 10 % Hispanic, and 94% low income.  And next year the kids in New Trier will all have new iPads.  Almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education our schools are more and more separate, and more and more unequal.

Please don’t tell me that this is a complex issue, that there are no good solutions, that anguished appointed school board members merely did what they had to do given the economic circumstances.  I’ve read the reports.  I’ve seen the studies.  I’ve talked to experts.  I can tell you what the real story is about charter school performance.  I think I have made a pretty good effort to understand what’s going on.  Whatever the specifics, this is about race and poverty and antipathy to unions and political influence and public indifference (how telling that for a time yesterday morning while the Board was deliberating on its closure vote, the lead online story for The Tribune was Bear’s football hero Brian Urlacher’s retirement announcement).

I have no doubt that the Chicago school teachers will do as much to protect their children this September navigating new routes to schools across dangerous gang lines as the teachers in Moore did for their students when the tornado came earlier this week. They don’t need editorial writers to tell them to do that.  But when their students ask them why their school is gone, just as students in Moore are no doubt asking right now, Chicago teachers won’t have a changing and dangerous climate or the proverbial “act of God” to point to.  Their answers will be equally sad, but far more sinister.

John Thomas is a Board member of Arise Chicago

Originally posted on the John Thomas blog on the Chicago Theological Seminary website.

Re-posted with permission.

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by Adam Kader

As a result of months of collaboration between Arise Chicago and Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th ward), last Thursday the City of Chicago passed an ordinance stating that, should an employer be found guilty of wage theft, the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection could revoke the owner’s business license.

The victory garnered significant media attention in the English and Spanish-speaking media.

Ald. Pawar“When I attended Arise Chicago’s launch event for the car wash campaign, where I learned that the average car wash worker has $4,413 stolen each year, nearly a third of their income, I felt an urgency to begin work on this ordinance,” Pawar stated.

Arise Chicago worked with Pawar to develop the concept, and with the mayor’s office to craft the language of the ordinance, which was then given a two-day hearing in the city’s Licensing Committee and moved to the entire City Council for a vote. The ordinance passed unanimously.

When Alderman Pawar spoke at the City Council meeting, he commented, “This will be a good ordinance for workers and the ethical business owners of Chicago…I commend the great work and leadership of Arise Chicago in leading the fight for this ordinance.”

The legislation is significant because it makes Chicago the second and largest city in the nation to enact such a policy. The National Employment Law Project’s publication on wage theft legislation identifies license revocation policies as a “top pick” for best practices.

This ordinance has a wide-ranging impact, effectively covering all workers who are employed by a business that needs a license to operate. But those who stand to gain the most are those workers who are the most marginalized: immigrant workers and workers of color, working in non-union and low-wage industries. Indeed, in its landmark report, the UIC Center for Urban Economic Development estimates that $7.3 million is stolen in workers’ wages in a single week in Cook County. The report also finds that immigrants are 1.5 times more likely than native-born workers to have their wages stolen, and African Americans are 27 times more likely to have their wages stolen than their white counterparts.

LilianaArise Chicago Worker Center member Liliana Baca’s story dramatizes how egregious wage theft can be: “I worked for over 60 hours a week for five years at a grocery store. And I never received overtime pay. This is my wage theft story. But I’m not the only one who has a story. So many people have had their wages stolen, and this ordinance will help them recover their wages and prevent wage theft from happening to other people.” Arise Chicago’s Worker Center has worked for years with over 3,000 workers like Liliana (above)  recover more than $5 million in stolen wages and owed compensation.

When workers’ wages are stolen, it affects their family and community life. As Alderman Pawar reflects in his ward newsletter, “These stolen wages are not going to pay down consumer debt, not going to purchase consumer goods nor are put to work in our economy through sales and income taxes. When employers steal from their employees, everybody loses.”

Wage theft hurts ethical businesses, too, by creating unfair competition for employers who want to follow the law but find themselves in a market flooded with competitors able to undercut them by stealing workers’ wages. In the Chicago car wash industry, for example, extreme wage theft is the norm, making it nearly impossible for ethical businesses to compete.

Ethical businessman David Launius, owner of We’ll Clean Car Wash, says “the human element of business is the most important.” Writing in support of the ordinance in a letter submitted to the Licensing Committee, Launius stated, “We care about the well-being of our staff. We are proud to partner with Arise Chicago to ensure that our workers are the best treated in the industry.”

Fellow Chicago worker centers, including Centro de Trabajadores Unidos/Immigrant Workers’ Project, Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, Latino Union, and Restaurant Opportunities Center brought organizers and worker members to testify in the Committee hearing in support of the ordinance.

The ordinance’s passage is a historic victory for workers because it signals that the City of Chicago will not tolerate wage theft. Perhaps Arise Chicago Worker Center member Maria Garcia best sums this up when she states, “Now the bosses are going to know that the workers have rights, too.”

–Adam is the Worker Center Program Director at Arise Chicago

Media HighlightsSalonThe Guardian

In These Times

Telemundo

click photo at right for video clip

Think Progress

Chicago Reporter

La Raza 

Portside

Clasp                               

DNAinfo.com

Progress IL                       

Lincoln Square Patch

47th Ward Newsletter

Arise Chicago YouTube video of press conference

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As a result of the months of collaboration between Arise Chicago and Alderman Pawar (47th ward), on Thursday, January 17th, the City of Chicago passed an ordinance stating that, should a business owner be found guilty of wage theft, the owner’s business license could be revoked. This makes Chicago the largest city in the country with anti-wage theft legislation. The ordinance, endorsed by the National Employment Law Project as one of the strongest actions a municipality can take to combat wage theft, will impact hundreds of thousands low-wage workers and their families in Chicago.

Ald. Pawar

“This ordinance helps change the conversation about good business. To be pro-business also includes caring about how employees are treated,” reflected Alderman Pawar (right).   “I think this marks an important step in leveling the playing field for the many ethical business owners in our city.”

Arise Chicago Worker Center member Liliana Baca (below) said, “I worked for over 55 hours a week for five years at a grocery store.  And I never received overtime pay. This is my wage theft story.  But I’m not the only one who has a story.  So many people have had their wages stolen, and this ordinance will help them recover their wages and prevent wage theft from happening to other people.”

Liliana

The ordinance gives desperately-needed tools to the city of Chicago to ensure employers obey the law.

Follow the latest on the new anti-wage theft ordinance by joining Arise Chicago on Facebook and Twitter.

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THURSDAY 9/13/12

TIFs are for Kids

Penny Pritzker sits on the Board of both Hyatt Hotels and Chicago Public Schools (CPS). As a Hyatt Board Member, she agreed to the construction of a Hyatt Hotel using $5.2 million dollars of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This money otherwise could have helped provide for students’ basic needs like libraries and text books.

As a CPS Board Member, she failed to prioritize students and has allowed hundreds of millions of CPS dollars to be siphoned off to be given to wealthy developers and corporate headquarters via the TIF system.

The 3:30 action will call on leaders like Ms. Pritzker and the CPS Board to put children first and to use TIF funds for schools, libraries and parks rather than tax breaks to the 1%.  The wider community will join striking teachers who are fighting to protect our children and provide the education they deserve.

Thursday, September 12

3:30pm – Picket at Hyatt Regency

4:45pm – Rally and Press Conference at Park at the corner of Congress Parkway & Michigan Ave

RSVP to the Facebook Event

FRIDAY 9/14/12Religious Support for Teachers

Religious leaders organized by Arise Chicago will join other community leaders at a press conference at City Hall outside the mayor’s office showing the steadfast support for the Chicago Teachers Union who is calling for:

-public education to remain public

-quality schools for all students

-more resources for neighborhood school

-a recall system that will support African American and Latinos  .  teachers in our schools

Religious leaders are invited to attend and to wear prayer shawls, stoles, collars, or other items of your tradition.

Friday September 14, 10:00am

City Hall, 5th floor

 

SATURDAY 9/15/12What Teacher Solidarity Looks Like

This Saturday, the Chicago Teachers Union is asking for all allies to join in a mass rally to keep public education public.

The 30,000 teachers, school social workers, clerks, vision and hearing testers, school nurses, teaching assistants, counselors, and other school professionals of the Chicago Teachers Union are standing strong to defend public education from test pushers, privatizers, and a national onset of big money interest groups trying to push education back to the days before teachers had unions. Around the country and even the world, this struggle is being recognized as the front line of resistance to the corporate education agenda.

Educators and supporters from across the country have pledged to travel to Chicago in solidarity to rally.

Will you join us?  Help us show the world what solidarity looks like! Wear red or your Arise Chicago t-shirt.Let the CTU know you will be there by registering here.

Saturday, September 15

12:00pm noon

Union Park at Ashland and Lake

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The Chicago Teachers Union has been attempting to negotiate a fair contract since last November.  Teachers have been working without a contract since June 30.  Should there be a strike, it is not simply about compensation, although the Board of Education has proposed combining wage and health care proposals, resulting in a net loss in salary.  Although legally the union can only strike over compensation issues, this strike is very much a fight to defend a quality public education for every Chicago student.  It is, as CTU President Karen Lewis has declared, a struggle “for the soul of public education.”

In ten months of negotiation, the Board has refused to negotiate over core union issues that would create, as the union’s hallmark study declared “The Schools that Chicago’s Students Deserve.”   The Board refuses to negotiate over classroom size; over having a nurse and social worker in every school; over having a library in every school; and over funding neighborhood schools instead of its drive to privatize public education through creating scores of non-union charter schools where teachers and parents have no voice. This is a strike that teachers and advocates of workers’ rights and supporters of public education across the nation are closely watching.

On the first day of the strike, thousands of teachers picketed outside their schools in the morning. 

In the afternoon, over 10,000 teachers and allies marched in downtown Chicago, rallying at CPS, and then surrounding City Hall.

Arise Chicago staff and members have been supporting the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign at strike headquarters, making banners, marching with teachers, and more.  See how to get involved below.

What You Can Do to Support Teachers:

  • Each day of the strike, you can join teachers on the picket lines at every school from 6:30 to 10:30am.  Click here for list sorted by school or by zip code.
  • Volunteer at the Chicago Teachers Union Strike Solidarity Center at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to make signs and banners, organize donations, help with sign distribution, sign-up to leaflet materials, help with banner drops, etc. Call Luke for details: 616-745-5134 or just show up.
  • Join teachers and supporters to rally and march every day. Check out CTU’s Strike Central for daily action updates.
  • Offer public prayers for and blessings of teachers in your house of worship and invite a teacher to speak.
  • Pick up your CTU support signs at Teamsters Auditorium at 300 S. Ashland to put in your window or yard and distribute signs to coffee shops, work places, etc.  For those driving by, pick-up on Van Buren, just west of Ashland, is possible without getting out of your car.
  • Call Gus or Daisy at Primo’s Pizza at (312) 243-1052, a locally owned and teacher-friendly restaurant to make a donation by credit card so teachers and supporters at the Solidarity Center can have pizza, pasta, and salads delivered to them.  Consider pooling donations with others and making just one phone call.  Please try not call during peak hours of 11:45 to 1:15.  Donations have already been called in from around the country!
  • Call Mayor Emanuel at 312-744-330 or CPS CEO Brizard at 773-553-1500 to tell them that CPS students deserve smaller class sizes, more libraries and computers, and that the teachers deserve a fair contract.
  • Wear red every day, even if you are not able to join the marches.
  • Sign up to get the latest news:
  • Facebook:  www.facebook.com/ChicagoTeachersSolidarity
  • Twitter: @CTSCampaign or @AriseChicago
  • Website: ctscampaign.weebly.com
  • CTU Strike Central
  • Questions?  Email:  ChicagoTeachersSolidarity@gmail. com
  • Text message updates: text @ctsc2012 to 23559 to receive strike and picket updates

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By Mimi Harris

Mimi Harris, fighter for working people (Photo: Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times)

Most of you who know me know that I’ve been raising hell in the streets, one way or another, for most of my life. But last Wednesday, May 23, was the crème de la crème for me, and I’m so exhilarated by it, I want to share it with you.

Dressed to the nines, and after two days of intensive, exhausting preparations, I attended (with about 30 others) the annual meeting of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a shareholder. Late last year the “Merc” received a huge tax break from the supposedly bankrupt state of Illinois. The tax break — a form of corporate welfare — officially goes into effect in July and will cost the state an estimated $77 million per year, though this number will depend on the CME’s profits (which have grown at an average rate of 19% annually for the last 30 years!). Over the next decade, that will cost us – you and me, folks – a billion dollars, easily.

Meanwhile the rest of us are expected to suffer through huge cuts to childcare, Medicaid (I, myself, will no longer get the help I need for medication), mental health facilities, state parks, as well as job and pension cuts. Sadly this long list goes on. And on.

At the CME shareholder meeting, the Board of Directors, including financial columnist Terry Savage, and the executives were there to vote themselves raises. After all, they made nearly $2 billion in profits just last year. (So why do they need a tax break?) Their last CEO retired at 50 with a golden parachute of millions. I’m still working, at age 80, because I have to, and paying my fair share of taxes.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Merc was also awarded $15 million in TIF funds to redo their bathrooms and conference rooms. The Stand Up! Chicago coalition, bless their hearts, delivered a golden toilet to them. That evidently helped them to do the right thing: they relinquished their rights to the TIF funds.

It was so gratifying last week to be in the room with them and speak truth to power and see them cringe. For the landsmen (kinsmen) I saw among them, I had a special private message that I was able to deliver to some — that their behavior is a shanda (a scandal, shameful, humiliation for our people)!

Most of you, maybe all of you, even if you are very comfortable, are part of the 99%. I encourage you to act like it. After all, if Stand Up! Chicago got them to return $15 million in TIF funds with a golden toilet, think what else we can do! In my view, our country is at stake.

For me, this action was a blessing and I am thrilled to have been a part of it!

-Mimi is a veteran organizer, a Board Member of Arise Chicago, a Board Member of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and an active participant in Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Organization of the NorthEast, and the Social Action Committee of Emanuel Congregation.

For more photos from the action, check out the Arise Chicago photo album on Facebook.

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Workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago walked off the job on Monday for a day, and were joined by religious leaders, labor organizers, and the rank-and-file faithful Interfaith Worker Justice‘s biannual conference on the picket line.
Attendees paid visits to two other Hyatt hotels in Chicago, staging “pray-ins” in the lobby areas of the Hyatt McCormick and the Park Hyatt.
The workers’ union, Unite Here, says there are two big sticking points in their contract negotiations: subcontracting and working conditions.
It’s understandable why workers want something in writing regarding subcontracting. Hyatt made national headlines in 2009 after the company told 98 of its nonunion housekeepers they had to train substitutes to fill in for them when the housekeepers went on vacation. Later in the day, the workers were abruptly informed that those subs were permanent: all 98 were summarily fired and would be replaced by temp workers who made minimum wage.
The episode drew nearly unanimous scorn from community groups, labor, and even business groups–the Harvard Business Review, hardly known as a friend to workers, titled one blog post “Lessons from Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand.” (Apparently HBR was less concerned about a company laying workers off than a company laying workers off in a way that didn’t play well in the press.)
It is understandable, then, that Hyatt workers in Chicago would want some language in their contract that would set out some guidelines about subcontracting.
Regarding workplace injuries, a 2010 study found that Hyatt housekeepers have the highest rates of injury out of any hotel company in the country.
- Micah is a Midwest Academy Organizing Intern at Arise Chicago

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Last week thousands of working Chicagoans protested corporations in attendance of a Midwest Chamber of Commerce summit.  Protesters demanded accountability from corporations who, by failing to pay taxes, have caused the housing crisis, unemployment, and budget deficits.  Check out the action here.

To join the growing movement, visit Stand Up! Chicago.

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2011 Reenactment of the Haymarket Affair and the following trial and execution of the Haymarket Martyrs in Chicago

By:  Shelly Ruzicka

At first I could not understand why the workers…silently and without a sign of protest bore every insult the caprice of the foreman or boss would heap upon them. I was not aware of the fact that the opportunity to work was a privilege, a favor, and that it was in the power of those who were in the possession of the factories and instruments of labor to deny or grant this privilege. […] I did not know that there were thousands and thousands of idle human bodies in the market, ready to hire out upon most any conditions, actually begging for employment. […] I knew then why … they suffered the humiliating dictates and capricious whims of their employers.

These are not the words of a contemporary privileged middle class college student discovering the reality of today’s working class.  These are not the words of a recent immigrant to the United States, discovering that the “American Dream” of a good job to support one’s family is chock full of wage theft and exploitation. No.  These are the words of a German immigrant, writing his autobiography from prison 125 years ago.   These are the words of Haymarket Martyr August Spies

Many of the speeches of the Haymarket Martyrs have been reprinted and used as rallying cries.  Not quite as well-known are the autobiographies of all eight imprisoned men, commissioned by the Knights of Labor weekly labor journal in Chicago while in prison.  In reading these autobiographies for the first time, a few passages stood out to me, and when read out of context, appear as words from a contemporary writer.

Since attending May Day events in commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Haymarket, I’ve been reflecting on the differences and similarities between the struggles of the 1880s and today.  First, to remember the past.

May Day 2011: One hundred twenty-five years since the strike for the eight-hour day.  One hundred twenty-five years after May Day was established following the killing of McCormick workers and the Haymarket rally in response to the police brutality brought upon those workers.  One hundred twenty-five years after the arrest and imprisonment of a group of workers & organizers, now referred to as the Haymarket Eight.  One hundred twenty-four years after the state’s wrongful execution of four of those men (Albert Parsons, August Spies, Andolph Fischer, and George Engle—as well as Louis Lingg who died in prison either by suicide or murder).

One hundred and twenty-five years.  Four generations of lives.  A century and a half.  So much has changed in that span of time—in our world, in our country, in our city.  A city that sparked a national and international movement for workers’ rights.  While the context has changed and shifted, our economy has changed and grown, industries have developed and moved around the globe, certain basic concepts and ideals have remained the same.  Employer practices have changed, becoming more sophisticated in the strategies utilized to maximize profits and exploit workers.  And workers in turn, developed new strategies to organize and fight back (one example—the Worker Center model).  But again, while the context is different—we’ve raised the floor, created minimum standards, and won victories for improving the standard of living via collective bargaining and workplace benefits—some things remain the same. The premise hasn’t changed.  Workers have to fight tooth and nail to win small improvements and to hold on to already-won benefits.  Many struggle to even meet the fairly low standards our state and federal government put in place decades ago.  Even though the general environment appears quite different on the surface, there with striking similarities to the past.

While workers today do not face the same level of physical violence as the workers of 125 years ago, they face rhetorical violence that have similar effects.  Perhaps one of the greatest examples is the crackdown by the state (via far right wing politicians) on organized public workers (i.e. governors in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan…).  Another example of rhetorical violence against organized workers is the direct verbal threat of con artist Andrew Breitbart who declared that his next targets (to destroy via lies and video editing) are teachers and unions.  Public figures like Scott Walker and Andrew Breitbart are using their positions of power or “fame” to put forward policies and messages that are in direct opposition to the interest of the majority of the public.

However, in today’s unstable economy, some are willing to listen to scapegoating preached by those such as Walker and Breitbart.  Did we not learn anything from the wrongful state murder of the Haymarket Martyrs?  Have we not learned to dig two inches below the surface and ask questions?  Why have so many allowed themselves to fall victim to the lies?  I won’t get into the discussion of the right-wing media machine.  That is for another day.  Instead I turn back to August Spies’ observation of workers’ fear in a time of mass joblessness.  Why, he asked, would workers put up with horrible conditions?  Why, we should ask ourselves do we lay beholden to attacks on workers by corporations and politicians?  Some things remain the same.  The fear of losing one’s job, especially knowing how many thousands are eagerly awaiting employment—no matter how low-paying or discriminator—is a powerful motivator.

But are all workers so fearful and beholden to their employers and those in power?  While it may seem so, I have to report stories that speak to the contrary.  A man who worked for his employer for over a decade put up with non-payment of overtime wages and derogatory treatment for years.  After learning the tools to confront his employer, the worker did so, demanding his back wages and the right to a safe and non-discriminatory environment, saying it was more important to take a stand than to save his job.  The power here is not just in winning wages or even in improving conditions.  The power here is in the transformation of all those involved.  The worker said  “I feel like I can finally breathe.  After years of feeling like I was drowning, I can finally breathe.”  The employer—for probably the first time in his life—had the tables changed and understood that he no longer had the upper hand in the relationship.  But that worker didn’t stop there.  That worker is now engaged in building an organization, building a movement of workers to change the tide.  Riding on the heels of Wisconsin, this worker is ready to make history.  This is one story.  It is seemly a small change.  But it encompasses the power and the meaning of May Day.  Let us all embrace this courage, this vision held by the Haymarket Eight and by countless workers across this country.   Onward to a better tomorrow.

Over 1000 workers and allies commemorated May Day at the cemetery where the Haymarket Martyrs are buried, and raised their fists in commitment to continue the struggle of 125 years ago

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