At The NALC Convention, Letter Carriers Show Their Support For All Workers

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Having  just returned from Philadelphia and an NALC Convention that was inspiring.  I am struck by the fact that Letter Carrier solidarity towards our political fight  for survival has continued to strengthen since our last convention in 2012. What has also increased in intensity is the national war on workers. Battlegrounds were all around us, many speakers at the convention relayed stories about attacks on worker rights and when we stepped outside we saw visible proof with the Carpenters Union picketing the convention center and UNITE HERE picketing the Radisson Warwick Blu which was one of our host hotels. Clearly all our grievances are connected.

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Senator Bernie Sanders speaking at the NALC convention

Senator Bernie Sanders delivered a fiery speech which was interrupted multiple times with standing ovations by the nearly 7000 delegates.”Well, I’ve got a message for Mr. Donahoe,” Sanders said. “At a time when the middle class is disappearing and the number of Americans living in poverty is at an all-time high, do not destroy middle-class jobs at the Postal Service. At a time when senior citizens and small businesses depend on the Postal Service operating six-days a week, do not end Saturday mail. At a time when the Postal Service is competing with the instantaneous communications of e-mail and high-speed Internet services, do not slow down the delivery of mail, speed it up. And do not dismantle the Postal Service by shutting down a quarter of the mail processing plants left in this country.”

The address by National Postal Mail Handlers Union President John Hegarty stressed the importance of the newly signed postal alliance which has all four postal unions working together to save the Postal Service. “The Postal Union Alliance puts it out there for all to see; we are united and we can’t be defeated.”

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NH State Association of Letter Carriers members Wayne Alterisio and Lew Henry stand with locked out Carpenters

Outside the convention center was a group of locked out carpenters. The Carpenters union which was locked out  seems to have a valid grievance and is currently in court trying to end their lock out. By some reports the Carpenters have been vigilant in contract enforcement and this may have played a role in the hard-line stand  from the convention center. In the spirit of solidarity the carpenters were enthusiastic participants with Letter Carriers and community groups in the Stop Staples rally held on Wednesday. The most contentious issue in their negotiations was a clause to allow increased low wage temporary workers.

NALC3A mile away UNITE HERE organized a  boisterous rally at the Radisson  Warwick Blu Hotel on Friday. The contagious spirit was reminiscent of early OWS in NYC . The workers are in difficult contract negotiations looking for a fair contract with job security. Workers are looking for protection from contracting out their jobs to low wage workers. For a company that is making millions of dollars a year giving its workers a fair contract should not be an issue. This is the latest example that corporate greed is always an obstacle to fairness.

All these workers realize that prosperity spreads  from the middle class out not from the top down. If trickle down economics works we would be flooded in jobs at the present time. The wealthy have not owned such a high percentage of our nations wealth since before the Great Depression of the 20′s. With the extreme wealthy making money at unparalleled rate why wouldn’t they pay their workers a fair wage.

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At a workshop local fast food workers outlined their plight against the reckless greed that has run rampant through their industry. A moving presentation from a fast food worker who was fired last week from his job for participating in activism to raise the minimum wage. It was eye-opening. He has two small children and was trying to survive on $7.25 an hour. In reality he had no choice but to fight to raise the wage. He had nothing to lose.

Corporate owned politicians are hell-bent on eliminating public services and replacing those union middle class jobs with low pay, no benefit, non-union jobs. It is accelerating the race to the bottom. In the private sector turning middle class jobs into temp jobs is happening at an alarming rate.  How can the ultra wealthy not comprehend  they are creating an unsustainable economic structure?

Our economic system can either make many people prosper for a long period of time or a few prosper for a short time. Judging by the building wave of economic discontent the clock is starting to run out on our plutocracy.

UNITE HERE and Hyatt Reach National Agreement

Pact provides contracts and process for workers to join union, ends global Hyatt boycott

CHICAGO (July 1, 2013)—Today Hyatt Hotels Corporation and UNITE HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada, announced a national agreement that resolves longstanding disputes between the two organizations. The agreement creates a framework for the company and the union to work together moving forward. Both UNITE HERE and Hyatt hailed the pact 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.

“I Haven’t Eaten for 3 Days in Solidarity”–Stories from a Hunger Striker

(Editors Note) Today I wanted to share a very special post from a UNITE HERE member in California who are currently on day three of a hunger strike for immigrant workers.  They are fighting back against an anti-worker program called E-Verify.  Because the immigration issue is so important to labor, I felt that sharing this message was very important. 

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“I Haven’t Eaten for 3 Days in Solidarity”–Stories from a Hunger Striker
By Michelle Gutierrez

Michelle Gutierrez

Michelle Gutierrez

We are three days into a five-day hunger strike that was called to save the jobs of nine immigrant workers at the Hilton Mission Valley. I, along with six others, have refused to eat since Friday morning. The nine workers we are supporting are set to be fired on Monday April 8th and Tuesday April 9th because after they tried to organize a union, Evolution Hospitality decided to use E-Verify. This is a program that checks immigrants’ documented status, a program that isn’t even mandatory with the federal government.

The nine workers who will be fired are immigrant women who have worked at the Hilton Mission Valley between 2 and 18 years. They are mothers who play a vital role in supporting their families, even though they make as little as $8.50 an hour and are unable to afford the company’s expensive family health insurance plan. I don’t know how they do it. Somehow, these women have been raising their families on so little.

This has been difficult. One of the other hunger strikers was so ill that he was rushed to the hospital yesterday. My friends and family have asked me why I would do something as extreme as not eat for five days. Nonetheless, I am striking because I believe firing hard-working people who are simply asking for respect and some dignity is unacceptable. My sacrifice pales in comparison to the sacrifice that many immigrant workers make just to take care of their families. Because of our broken immigration system, many people are permanently separated from family members in their home countries, they live in constant fear of apprehension and deportation, and they work for employers who do not deem them worthy of a living wage.

I am also willing to stand up for these workers because I know what it’s like to struggle and be denied value because of the work you do. My grandparents were farmworkers, my parents worked as farmworkers and later service sector workers, and I worked as a housekeeper for minimum wage while I made my way through college. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother trying to make a small piece of meat feed our whole family and of rolling pennies so that we could afford to buy each other presents for Christmas. Despite the fact that I admired my parents and grandparents for how hard they worked, for most of my childhood I also had to witness them do their best to make ends meet. In my family, it was a daily struggle. Just as the workers of the Hilton Mission Valley, we should not have had to struggle so much just for the chance at a decent life.

Heading into the fourth day of the hunger strike, I am feeling some uncertainty about the end results, but as I sit with the Hilton Mission Valley workers who are likely to be fired, I know that I’m not alone in this feeling. My hope is that we can start recognizing that all workers have dignity and that we give all people who do the work that runs our economy the means to a decent life.

Stealing From The Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

PHOTO CREDIT: DNAInfo/Joe Parziale

Hurricane Sandy was nearly a month ago but her effects are still being felt.  People are still recovering from the largest storm to hit East Coast in decades.  Even now stories are still surfacing about different people are helping the victims of the hurricane.

Recently the NH Labor News posted a story about how the Teamsters are giving up their time and money to help the people of NYC.  Even the NH Firefighters have been making runs to NY to help victims.

However not all the stories from New York are good.  After many natural disasters, theft is problem.  Today, I am not talking about someones radio or tv. Today, I am talking about the theft of peoples sick days.

In a recent article union members from UNITE HERE Local 100 are fighting to get back paid sick days after Hurricane Sandy.

“(Bill) DeBlasio said the workers, who are employed by corporate dining services like Sodexo and Aramark, didn’t find out about having involuntary days off taken away until they got their most recent pay stubs.”

Some of these cafeteria’s are still closed due to hurricane damage.

“I feel like these companies think they can do whatever they want,” said Oscar Conca, 55, who has served food to Merrill Lynch workers for Sodexho for 17 years. “People with years, decades of service are being told to go to unemployment.”

How would you feel if you opened your bi-weekly pay check and found that your sick leave bank was empty?   Taking advantage of workers who are already struggling to recover after a deadly storm rips apart their homes is absolutely wrong.  All I can say is thank goodness these people are members of UNITE HERE, because without UNITE HERE who would be filing their complaints?

Read the full article from DNAInfo

Voter Suppression Is Real!

If you think the elections are over then you would be wrong.  In New Hampshire they are currently holding numerous recounts throughout the state.  While the overall media opinion is that New Hampshire voting went smoothly.  There were a few issues with the new Voter ID law and long lines.

The biggest story comes from Merrimack. The entire town voted in one polling station.  Over 18,000 registered voters in Merrimack were force to go to the town high school to cast their ballot. This could be the largest polling station in the country. There were long lines at the polls but the traffic getting to the polls actually kept people from the polls.  The town has a significate traffic problem on a normal day now add in thousands of people trying to go to a school with only two entrance roads.  The town ended up keeping the polls open till after 8pm due to the traffic on the roads. It is unknown how many if any were turned away or neglected to go because the polls were supposed to be closed.

The good thing is that all 15,000 people who cast their ballot in Merrimack had their ballot counted.  This is not the case in some places.

In Maricopa Arizona thousands of people exercised their Constitutional Right to vote and yet their vote has still not been counted.  Listen to the dramatic story of this first time voter who was forced to file a ‘provisional’ ballot.

UNITE HERE has been on the ground in Arizona since the election season started.  They were working to turn out voters.  They registered 34,000 new voters like Faez.  Now the state is refusing to count their votes.

UNITE HERE and other community members are standing up for these voters.  Working to ensure that they get their voice heard this election.  They will be hosting a rally tomorrow at the Maricopa County Recorders Office.

Holding up our rights is paramount to what we in the labor movement have fighting for since the beginning.  Ensuring that our collective voice is heard is what labor is all about. Now we have to hold the government accountable to ensure that all voters get their voice heard too.  Our right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution and nothing the Maricopa Country Recorder does will ever take that away.

UPDATED 10-11-12: Oh My God, That’s Disgusting! A Story of Violating Workers and Cleanliness in LA

Words cannot describe the feelings I am having right now.  My stomach is turning and my skin is crawling.  All because, I have this sudden sense of dread over staying in a hotel after hearing what is happening at the Holiday Inn in Los Angeles.

Workers at the Holiday Inn LAX are blowing the whistle on the company and their cost cutting practices.  According to a new expose` video from My Fox LA workers tell the story of abuse, wage theft, and overall deplorable actions by the hotel management.

Workers were being forced to clock out and then return to work without being paid.  “I’ve worked for two hours after punching out. I punch out then I have to go back to work,” said Carmen Linares, a Holiday Inn housekeeper.

Then to make it worse they hotel does not supply cleaning supplies to workers for weeks at a time.  Housekeepers are forced to put sheets on beds that were washed with only hot water due to the fact the hotel did not supply laundry detergent.  According to the My Fox LA story workers cleaned bathrooms with left over shampoo, and that the bar glasses were only rinsed with hot water.

The hotel management is claim that these false accusations stemming from a labor dispute.  Unite Here, the union that represents the workers at Holiday Inn LAX are filing a lawsuit today on behalf of the employees. Workers are suing their employer for back wages, not respecting their rights as workers to take meal breaks, not reimbursing them for expenses incurred while performing their work, and failure to pay them the mandatory “Living Wage” required for all LAX-area hotels.

On behalf of travelers across the country I thank the workers at this hotel for having the courage to stand up and be heard.  I would also like to thank Unite Here (Local 11) for helping to bring this to national attention.  Without the Unite Here, I firmly believe that these workers would not have the strength to stand up and blow the doors wide open on this appalling case.

UPDATE 10-11-12

Last week, the workers at the Holiday Inn LAX blew the whistle on their employer.

Now, two workers have been fired, and just this morning workers walked off the job.

If you think this is wrong, stand up and take action now. Please take two minutes to send a message to the hotel’s investors: tell them to help clean up the mess at the Holiday Inn LAX — for the good of the workers and the guests.

 

What HYATT Housekeeps Need You To Know, But Don’t.

For some people being good at your job means that others hardly notice you are there.  For many of the hard working men and women housekeepers who work for HYATT this is definitely the case. The problem is because the people are virtually invisible to the public their struggles also go unnoticed.  That is until now.

UNITE HERE  which represents working people in airports, gaming, hotels, food service, textile, laundry, manufacturing, and distribution is working to bring these issues to the front page.  They are also fighting against one of the largest hotel chains in the United States, HYATT.

The struggles between HYATT and the UNITE HERE members have made news mostly due to contract negotiations falling apart.  The main stream media has yet to explore why these negotiations have broken down and the real struggles that these workers face.

In California many of the housekeepers have been trying to get HYATT to provide simple and basic tools for housekeepers to effectively do their jobs, like mops with handles.  In a phone interview,  Kathy Youngblood (HYATT Andaz in West Hollywood) talked to me about the work she is doing to get mops for housekeepers, so they do not have to clean floors on their hands and knees.  Kathy and others are also pushing for HYATT to purchase fitted sheets.  Fitted sheets will save time and strain on the workers who would otherwise have to lift heavy mattresses to make the beds.   Kathy said “I am not afraid to work hard, but what HYATT is doing to us borders on abuse”.

Kathy is not alone, on the other side of the country workers in Boston have been fighting for over three years to get a signed contract.  This is largely due to HYATT sub-contracting out jobs.  Those  people who currently do that work are then laid off.  To add salt in the wound, workers must train their replacements before they leave.  HYATT fired the entire housekeeping staff to replace them with temp workers who made minimum wage.

In Maryland, HYATT workers are routinely paid 3/5ths the wages of HYATT workers in other states.  Workers at the Baltimore Regency, recently held a rally / protest to bring attention to the sub-contracting and low wages.  In a statement released by Unite Here:

Protesters today are carrying banners with the message “No More 3/5ths in Baltimore.” Many workers at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore are making little more than $8 an hour or just 3/5ths of what Hyatt workers in similar markets are making. Furthermore, Hyatt is increasingly relying on subcontractors to staff core functions of the hotel, creating a growing class of workers earning little more than minimum wage and no benefits.

For all these reasons and more workers at HYATT and the members of UNITE HERE are asking for our help.

First, Vote HYATT as worst employer in the country.   If you are still unsure if they deserve it, read the story of Bertha Castro and then you will know!

Secondly, Boycott HYATT!  Here are four reasons you should boycott HYATT.  Stop supporting a company who abuses employees.  There is even a story of managers turning heat lamps on the employees durning a heat wave.  The employees were striking because of the abusive treatment from managers.

The next time you are walking through the halls of the hotel, be sure to stop and thank the housekeeper.  Remember these men and women work tirelessly to make sure you have a clean room to sleep in every time.  Without these hard working men and women, no hotel would ever be able to survive, because nobody would ever stay in a dirty room!

UPDATED: HYATT Workers Want ‘SOMEONE LIKE ME’ On The Board of Directors

Cathy Youngblood, Hyatt Housekeeper for nearly 40 years in West Hollywood.
Image via Hyatt Hurts Facebook http://on.fb.me/SPqhwU

Have you ever said, ‘If my boss only knew what I have to do?’  I know that I have.  Have you ever wondered how differently a company would be if they had a real worker on the board of directors? Someone with real-world experience and truly understands what the everyday worker goes through.  This is the exact thinking of Unite HERE.

Over the past year Unite HERE has been bringing attention to the horrible treatment of the workers at the Hyatt Hotels through their Hyatt Hurts campaign.  They have brought to light many of the problems inside the Hyatt hotels that the current Board of Directors was oblivious to.  (See also What Hyatt Housekeepers need you to know, but don’t) Some of Hyatt’s most recent offenses are replacing long time dedicated housekeepers with minimum wage, temp employees.

That is about to change.  Today Unite HERE launched a new campaign to called ‘Someone like me‘.  The campaign makes a few new resolutions and encourage the Board to adopt at their annual stockholders meeting in 2013.

  1. Whereas, Hyatt’s workers are the key to the corporation’s success by virtue of their knowledge, skills and commitment to excellent guest services;
  2. Whereas, Hyatt can improve its service by diminished use of temporary, subcontracted workers earning minimum wages and without benefits and by a reduction in housekeeper workloads from as many as 30 rooms per day which contribute to higher injury rates;
  3. Whereas, Hyatt’s corporate governance guidelines call for Directors with ‘judgment, character, expertise, skills and knowledge useful to the oversight of Hyatt’s business’ who exemplify a ‘diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences’;
  4. Whereas, Hyatt Hotel Corporation’s Board of Directors contains only two women and one person of color and is not reflective of the diversity or experience of Hyatt’s workforce;
  5. Therefore, be it resolved that Hyatt should increase the size of its board by one director and should reserve that seat for a Hyatt hotel worker as a positive step for the company, its employees and its customers.

I say why not? It is an innovative idea to allow direct input from the workers to the executives who shape the companies goals and policies.

“We all have a shared stake in Hyatt’s success, but no one who cleans rooms like me has a real say at Hyatt,” says Cathy Youngblood, a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood.  “By choosing someone like me to be on the board, Hyatt could be a model for corporate America at a time when so many American workers feel left behind.”

Currently, Hyatt has twelve directors on its board.  The new resolution proposes that a 13th board member be added from the ranks of Hyatt’s staff. Current board members include Tom and Penny Pritzker of the billionaire Pritzker family, Hyatt’s CEO Mark Hoplamazian, and Greg Penner, an heir to the Walmart fortune, among others. Other board members have ties to Goldman Sachs, private equity firms worth billions, and major brands like Macy’s and Royal Caribbean. None of the biographies published by Hyatt of current board members shows any having experience as a hotel worker.

Hyatt has singled itself out as the worst employer in the hotel industry by abusing its housekeepers, replacing longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers, and imposing health-threatening workloads on those who remain. In a first in the hotel industry, the federal government issued a letter to Hyatt earlier this year, warning the company of hazards their housekeepers face. Workers say that adding someone with recent guest experience to the Board could reshape Hyatt’s staffing policies and improve Hyatt’s image.

UPDATE 3-20-13
From Hyatt Hurts Blog

“Today, hundreds of Chicago hotel workers and city leaders are gathering to recommend Hyatt housekeeper Cathy Youngblood be added to Hyatt’s Board of Directors.”

“Workers will be joined by city leaders including Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Political Director Artemio Arreola, and Reverend J. Leon Thorn of St. James AME Church in Hyatt’s hometown. They join the growing list of allies backing Hyatt workers, including the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the National Organization of Women (NOW).”

Hyatt Hurts also released this video showing what a different place Hyatt would be if the board had someone who understands the needs of the workers to advocate for them on the Board of Directors.