Last updated: October 9, 2009
On Aug. 31, managers at three Hyatt-owned hotels in metro Boston "summoned their entire housekeeping staffs, fired everybody on the spot, and immediately outsourced the jobs to a staffing company based in Atlanta," reported Fortune magazine. Hotel management figured that paying new workers roughly half the $15-an-hour wages of those it fired was a pretty savvy business decision. And that could be why much of the nation erupted in outrage, fed up with business ethics that prey on the lowest paid workers.
Lucine Williams, a single mom from Barbados who worked at the Boston Hyatt Regency for nearly 22 years, told Fortune, "I could not believe my ears. I was in shock. People start crying. I start crying."
"What was Hyatt thinking?" asked a Fortune editor at large. "That no one would notice? That no one would care? Well, the privately held hotelier, which announced plans recently to go public, screwed up big-time; everybody knows that now."
Businesses canceled reservations. A union representing 1,700 Boston taxi drivers vowed to stop driving fares to and from Hyatt hotels. Governor Deval Patrick threatened a state boycott of the hotel chain if the housekeepers’ jobs aren’t restored. "This is not how I like to operate," Patrick told the company. "But the treatment of these workers appears to be so substandard that it leaves me no choice." The National Employment Lawyers Association canceled its contract with the Hyatt.
A state Senate resolution to boycott Hyatt was shot down by Republicans under special interim rules, but state Democrats vow to introduce the boycott formally at the next session.
"If it weren’t for our tax dollars… none of the businesses in the convention center district would survive," a UNITE HERE member told Providence Rhode Island’s Channel 10. Taxpayers footed the bills to build the Westin Hotel and gave big tax breaks to the Rhode Island Convention Center.
When the union got wind of a scheme by local Westin management to mimic the Hyatt in nearby Boston by axing workers who make $12 to $15-an-hour so they could be replaced with subcontractors, that convinced the city council to consider a resolution to ban mass firings of workers at downtown hotels.
"You saw what happened in Boston with the Hyatt. We just want to make sure that doesn’t happen here in Providence," said Michael Solomon, who is sponsoring the ordinance.
Twice as many young people are worried about their financial future than young people were ten years ago.
It’s no wonder. The job market they face today is terrifying. Barely half (51 percent) of teenagers and young adults held jobs in July –the lowest portion ever recorded -- and it’s not getting better. If they manage to land a job, it probably doesn’t pay much. Health care is a rare luxury, and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. Many are crippled by the debts they ran up to go to school.
These harsh realities are documented in a new report, "Young Workers: A Lost Decade", based on a July survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and Working America. Whatever economic security under-35 workers had when a similar survey was held in 1999 has crumbled. Back then, three out of four young workers felt confident of a brighter economic future.
Workers at Truthout.org have paved new ground by organizing a union virtually -- online without ever seeing each other or coming face to face with an organizer.
They joined The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) using the country’s first "virtual card check." Union cards were verified with faxed PDFs of each employee’s signature.
Using tools like Skype and Google Documents, organizers spent long hours on conference calls, "meeting" at night, each in their own living rooms, kitchens or backyards. Outreach, meetings and strategy sessions all were done online, by an organizing committee based in New York, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Could this be a model for other workers in far-flung, online operations who want to unionize? Truthout union representative Shannon Duffy of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild thinks so.
Online workers have to deal with many of the same problems other workers do, but in a different way. For example, says TNG president Bernie Lunzer, "The myth is there’s this group of young, digital-savvy workers who live all day on the Internet. The truth is, all workers need a life. Online workers are beginning to say, ‘We need to sort this out. Work is a part of life we enjoy, but it’s not our whole life.’ "
The labor movement will survive and thrive only if it succeeds in recruiting and promoting people of color and women, the fastest growing groups of union members. But the need for diversity goes even deeper. Diversity means seeking justice and fairness for all workers, no matter what their national origin, ability, sexual orientation, age and gender identity.
That was the goal discussed by 500 delegates to the AFL-CIO Diversity Summit, held just before the Sept. AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh.
|Clare Burt, AFA-CWA director of collective bargaining, answers questions in a video|
In October of ’08 Delta Airlines, where only the pilots belong to a union, bought Northwest Airlines, which was wall-to-wall union. That triggered a battle over unionizing even before the merger was official.
At first the airlines seemed to have the upper hand. Appointees of Pres. George Bush controlled the National Mediation Board, which oversees union drives in the airline and railroad industries. And the Bush appointees were busily re-writing the rules for union elections to help Delta get rid of unions at Northwest once the buyout went through.
The Bush board wanted to require that "more than a substantial majority" of workers must be pro-union for it to recognize the union after unionized carrier merges with a non-union one, without clearly defining what "substantial" means. The Board also tried to curb or outlaw the use of card-check certification. Only an outcry by transportation unions and the Democratic heads of key Senate committees convinced the Board to back off.
It’s already hard enough to organize transportation workers. A bizarre rule, written a century ago when the law covered just the railroads, says that anyone who doesn’t vote in a union election, for whatever reason, is counted as a vote against the union. The union has to win votes from the majority of all workers, not just those who vote.
As the Bloomberg news service points out, "Nowhere in American democracy, other than during a union election in the airline and railroad industry, does an eligible voter wishing to sit out an election have his or her silence tabulated as a no vote."
The last time Delta flight attendants tried to go union, in May 2008, those who voted approved the union by a big margin – but the union lost the election because only 40 percent of the workforce cast ballots.
Over the years, says the AFA-CWA union representing flight attendants, companies have also taken advantage of that rule by padding the ranks of the workforce with the names of employees who no longer work for the company.
|The union's August newsletter|
Now that President Obama has appointed the majority of board members, that unfair rule could change.
This summer, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and the Machinists union asked the board to declare that Delta and Northwest are a single entity, so that they can hold a new organizing election. Once the Mediation Board certifies that they’re a single airline, it will schedule union elections that promise to be among the biggest it’s ever conducted.
More than half the 300 flight attendants at Compass Airlines also signed union cards and announced in September that they too want a union representation vote. Compass, part of Northwest Airlink, is now a Delta subsidiary.
As the 20,500 Delta flight attendants prepared to vote, the rules are still up in the air. The AFL-CIO is asking the new mediation board to behave as other boards do, and allow the people who vote to elect the union with a simple majority of voters.
But the trade group representing Delta claims that "There is no legal or policy justification to change this well-established voting process." Funny – they didn’t complain when the Bush-dominated board wanted to change the process in their favor.
More than 50,000 workers at Delta could finally become unionized. The AFA-CWA union sees signs that support is growing among Delta workers. "Delta no longer can defend its wage and benefit structure," it says, "and we have the facts and figures to prove it."
This is how the union’s August newsletter described the drama that is unfolding:
The coming election "has literally put the future of every one of us, and our profession, in our hands.
"If we choose to unite by voting to be represented by AFA-CWA in negotiations for a legally-binding contract, we’ll not only be utilizing our strength as the single largest group of flight attendants in the world. . . but we’ll also be establishing ourselves as the leaders in our profession.
"If we fail to win representation, flight attendants of the old Delta will lose a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a voice in winning an industry-leading contract.
"Worse yet, flight attendants of the former Northwest will lose the contract they now have – it will be extinguished, and Delta management will be free to change any and all terms and conditions of employment.
"The choice is ours."
When the polls closed on October 6, the verdict was impressive. The National Mediation Board (NMB) announced that 96 of the 114 USA3000 flight attendants eligible to vote chose to join the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA).
"We welcome USA3000 flight attendants to the world’s largest flight attendant union and look forward to working side-by-side in negotiating a legally binding contract that will provide the security they need to advance their profession," said AFA-CWA International President Patricia Friend.
USA3000 has bases in Philadelphia, Fort Myers, Chicago and St. Louis. This is the third election victory, as well as the second charter carrier, to elect AFA-CWA as their bargaining representative this year.
|AFL-CIO Sec.-Treas. Liz Shuler|
When she graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism, Liz Shuler says she "was the McJob woman." Just like many young people today, she held a string of part-time jobs to make ends meet.
Shuler cut her teeth in the labor movement when a summer job with General Electric in Portland, Oregon in the early 1990s developed into a campaign to unionize clerical workers. Both her parents worked for the company, and Liz was struck by how her unionized father was treated with much more respect than her mom. Since all the staff organizers were men, the union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers, relied on her to relate to women clericals. That organizing stint failed, but it taught Liz that the union needed to build its mobilizing capacity.
Three former Lowe’s employees who sued over being sexually harassed have been awarded $1.72 million – at $57 million per worker, it’s the largest such settlement ever awarded in the western United States.
Two were men who had been harassed by co-workers who thought they were gay at a Lowe’s hardware stores in Longview, Washington. The other was a woman at the same store who was harassed by a supervisor. Lowe’s also must revise anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies and provide extensive anti-harassment training to employees in all 50 Washington and Oregon stores.
|Diversity Summit delegates|
Every state AFL-CIO and central local body must set concrete goals for more diversity in leadership, says Resolution 7, passed at the Sept., 2009 AFL-CIO Convention. It pledges to do more to include, at all levels, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers and workers with disabilities. Moreover, it pledges that the movement will actively recruit, train and include young workers in all its activities and programs and give them opportunities to become leaders.
Such resolutions do make a difference, as AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer William Lucy pointed out. The diversity efforts required by Resolution 2, passed in 2005, helped bring new workers into union leadership and chipped away at divisiveness within the movement. One result: nearly half the faces across this year's convention floor were of women or people of color, and two out of three top officers are women. At the next tier of leadership, however, only one new vice president is a woman, Roberta Reardon of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
"Imagine an environment dominated by men unconsciously comfortable with sexism, racism, and brute force. Further imagine a young working-class woman courageously embracing the principle of justice for all workers and compelled to navigate a terrain dominated by complex, flawed, sometimes deeply compromised and always powerful men...
"In Terry Spencer Hesser's colorful and personal portrait of labor leader Regina V. Polk, we have a truly inspirational story for anyone who believes in fighting against the power of patriarchy and abusive employers."
--Robert Bruno, Director of Labor Education Program, University of Illinois
"I am a Teamster," a book written by award-winning author Terry Spencer Hesser, who has three Emmys under her belt, won praise in a Sept . 28 article in Chicago Union News.
|The movie "Norma Rae" was based on this book|
If you’ve ever seen the 1979 movie Norma Rae, starring Sally Fields in an Oscar-winning performance, you know it’s one of the most inspiring union stories to ever hit the big screen. It was based on a real story – of how Chrystal Lee Sutton stood up for the union in 1973 in her Roanoke Rapids plant during a long, difficult battle to organize the J.P. Stevens textile company. Her heroism was first captured in the 1975 book, "Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance," and the movie was based on that book.
At the time Sutton made just $2.65 an hour folding towels to support herself and her three children. In a 2008 interview, she explained to the Burlington Times-News why she risked everything to get a union: "If I see someone getting hurt, I’m going to help them."
Don’t get carried away celebrating the news that nearly half the nation’s jobs are now held by women, warns an October 4 New York Times article.
Lisa Belkin, author of the article and Motherlode blog, dishes out sobering facts that remind us of how much work we still have to do:
The United States has been called "the no-vacation nation." In fact, it is alone among industrialized countries in having no law that requires employers to grant vacations. Across the Atlantic, all European workers are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid days of leave per year, and many European countries do better than that.
In the United States, one out of four workers has no paid vacation or public holiday leave at all. The average non-unionized worker will work a lifetime and still never reach the European minimum amount of paid annual leave. This is yet another area where belonging to a union gives workers a clear advantage.
A study of the entire workforce — adjusted for occupation, industry, and other factors — found that, after 25 years, union members receive 27% more vacation weeks than non-union workers.
"We need a unionism that makes sense to the next generation -- young women and men who either don't have the money to go to college or are almost penniless by the time they come out," AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said in his acceptance speech at the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention.
"These women and men need a strong voice. But when they look at unions, they don't see themselves -- only a grainy, faded picture from another time. That's not the way it has to be."
"The labor movement can't ask the next generation of workers to change how they earn their living to fit our model of trade unionism," he added. "No! We have to change our approach to organizing and representation to better meet their needs.
"And we will!"
When CareerBuilder.com surveyed 4,478 full-time workers this September, the results were sobering.
"As the economic downturn trudges on, many workers are struggling with household budgets," concludes CareerBuilder. "Six-in-ten workers (61%) report they always or usually live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet, up from 49 percent last year and 43 percent in 2007."
That’s forced many to dip into long-term savings and cut their 401(k) contributions. More than one in three workers (36%) say they do not participate in any 401(k), IRA, or other retirement plan, up from 31 percent in 2008. Moreover, one in three report that they don’t put any money aside into savings each month, up from 25 percent in 2008, and another 30 percent set aside $100 or less per month for savings.
The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive, gives more proof that today’s largely non-union workforce is suffering.
"What has been imposed on these workers – most of whom have worked hard, played by the rules, and invested their time and energy in your company’s success – is both upsetting in its own right and also the worst nightmare of every worker in today’s weak economy.”
– Mass. Gov. Patrick Devall
in letter blasting Hyatt CEO for firing housekeepers
Lessons From Hyatt: Simple Ways to Damage Your Brand: Looking for a sure-fire way to do a little damage to your brand? Follow these simple steps:
There you go. Simple as that. And don’t thank me; thank your friends at Hyatt hotels who, according to an article in the Boston Globe, have apparently executed this very strategy at three Boston area properties.
– Harvard Business Review
Readers of USA Today in response to Hyatt firings of Boston housekeepers:
“Shame on Hyatt. I will never stay in a Hyatt property again. I will also encourage my 300,000+ colleagues to avoid all Hyatt properties."
“I feel more secure if the people going through my room are staff of the hotel & are not making minimum wage.”
“Outsourcing frequently leads to increased theft and other crimes. I've written Hyatt off my list.”
“I don't like cheaper wages when all the cream goes to the top. That is the problem in many businesses today. ”
“Hyatt, you get what you pay for. Alaska Airlines did the same thing and replaced their baggage handlers with outsourced contractors a number of years ago and it was a disaster. To this day, I won't fly Alaska.”
“This is just a ploy by management to raise profits so their profit based bonuses become larger. Customer service and satisfaction do not figure into the equation.”
“Circuit City did something similar with their sales force and the end result was there was no Circuit City ... The PR backlash will hurt Hyatt far more then the money they will save with this piece of idiocy.”
“Wouldn't it be great if there was a CEO out there that would actually try a novel approach to running a business that doesn't include automatically firing workers when things get tough?!”
"Union jobs help build the middle class, they get money into the pockets of working families, and they insure the safety and security of all American workers.
"Labor is not the problem. Labor is the solution. And when labor is strong, America is strong."
– President Barack Obama
Labor Day, 2009
"Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers and head of the credentials committee, reported 46 percent of the delegates were women or people of color.
“But as nice as that statistic was, there also was a very real sense in the room of the aging of the labor movement. A vast majority of the people in the convention center either had gray hair, thinning hair or a good hairdresser.
“Therefore, much of the talk was about reaching out to young people and getting them to join organized labor.”
On 2009 AFL-CIO Convention
Our drive for diversity is not just about our members. It's also about our future members. It's about our potential members.
"And we can't ever forget that. Every single worker out there is a future and a potential member of the labor movement."
– AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka
2009 Diversity Summit
"I was able to overcome hurdles because those who ranked above me — men and women alike — reached back and helped me up the ladders they had climbed.
“Because, still, far too many women, people of color and gay Americans’ opportunities in life are being doubly jeopardized by a lousy economy and the long-standing prejudices of employers—and unfortunately, of some members.
“So it’s up to those of us who’ve experienced new opportunities because of our unions and those of us deeply committed to diversifying our workplaces and our membership to ensure that the progress we’ve made so far is just a start.”
– Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Sec.-Treas.
2009 Diversity Conference
About the 2005 resolution that committed the AFL-CIO to set diversity goals:
"Some said Resolution 2 was going to divide our movement; instead, it became one of our greatest strengths at a time when we needed unity and solidarity the most desperately."
– Arlene Holt Baker,
new AFL-CIO Exec.V.P.
Some people say that given the state of the economy we can't afford unions right now.
"Well they got it backwards. Today unions are more important than ever. Workers are under assault and they need a voice on the job that unions will provide."
– Labor Secretary Hilda Solis
2009 Diversity Summit
We don’t have one dues rate for African American, or Hispanic, or Asian Pacific-American members, and another rate for the rest of our members.
"Our women members don’ t pay lower dues than our male members. We don’t have lower dues for our gay and lesbian and transgender members or for members with disabilities. So why should they get fewer opportunities to lead and to learn?”
– John Sweeney
outgoing AFL-CIO President,
2009 Diversity Summit