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Hyatt workers want a seat at the table

Hyatt housekeepers say they have a solution to the corporation’s reputation for labor abuses — add a worker to the board of directors.

(Meanwhile Chicago parents say that the departure of Hyatt board member Penny Pritzker from the school board here opens an opportunity for community input in selecting her replacement; more here.)

Hundreds of hotel workers will meet Wednesday, March 20 at 5 p.m. at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, to nominate Cathy Youngblood, a Hyatt housekeeper from Los Angeles, to a seat on the corporation’s board.

They’ll be joined by supporters including elected officials and labor, community, and faith leaders.

Hyatt workers in Chicago have been working without a contract since 2009, with Hyatt refusing to follow other hotels here in negotiating over subcontracting and workloads, said Carly Karmel of UNITE-HERE Local 1.

Read the rest of this entry »

Penny Pritzker’s TIF

School board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels Corp. is benefiting from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy on 53rd Street – while CPS’s proposed 2013 budget cuts seven schools surrounding the hotel project by $3.4 million, which is roughly the portion CPS is losing from the TIF deal.

“This one example shows the fundamental corruption in the way things are done here,” said David Orlikoff of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a labor and community coalition growing out of Occupy Chicago’s labor committee and supporting the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTSC will hold a press conference and speakout and picket the project at 53rd and Harper on Wednesday, August 8, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“As a member of the Board of Education, it’s Penny Pritzker’s job to find money for our schools, not to take our money for her business,” Orlikoff said.

The $5.2 million subsidy is part of $20.4 million in TIF funds going to the University of Chicago-led redevelopment of Harper Court (see here for some background).  In addition to the hotel, the university is building a 12-story office building in the first phase of the project.

CTSC points out that Pritzker has a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the University of Chicago – now engaged in a huge campus expansion – has an endowment of $6.6 billion.

“They have plenty of money,” said Lorraine Chavez of CTSC.  “They don’t need a taxpayer subsidy to pay for it.  It’s outrageous.”

At Catalyst, Penny Pritzker clarifies that she’s not personally receiving the $5.2 million, and in a statement to Newstips, Hyatt points out that the Hyde Park Hyatt will not be owned by the corporation but, like many Hyatts, operated under a franchise agreement, thus “neither Hyatt Hotels Corporation nor Penny Pritzker…is receiving TIF funds as a result of this project.”

Conflict of interest

“The school board should be defending school funding when the mayor wants to take it for TIFs; it’s the only body in a position to do that,” Orlikoff said.  “But they’re appointed by the mayor, and they look the other way.

“Then they tell teachers they don’t have any money for anything, except the mayor’s pet projects.  It’s a conflict of interest – and it will be a conflict until the school board is elected.

“We need representation on the school board, and we need to end the chronic underfunding of our schools,” Orlikoff said.

CTSC, which exists “to support teachers and fight for equitable quality education,” calls for increasing school funding “by reclaiming TIFs and taxing the rich.”

TIF is “a failed program,” Orlikoff said.  “It’s not fighting economic blight, it’s a way of taking from everyone and giving to the One Percent.”

Questions on 53rd Street

There are lots of questions right now about the 53rd Street TIF, especially with a new TIF district now being carved out of it by a second developer.

Antheus Capital, planning an upscale residential and retail development at 51st and Lake Park, wants to break its parcel out of the 53rd Street TIF to form its own TIF district —  in order apply for $10 million or more in TIF funds.  The 53rd Street TIF advisory council has okayed the proposal.

But after ten years of operation, the 53rd Street TIF fund has a balance of just $3.7 million.

Now, with thirteen years to go, it’s on the hook for a $20-million subsidy, while revenues are slowing (due not just to a lousy economy but to the County Assessor’s new formula, which shifts the property tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayers) – and the TIF district is getting smaller.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘We Are One’

Thousands of Chicago workers will rally in Daley Plaza tomorrow (Saturday, April 9, 1 p.m.), the culmination of a week of activities around the state and part of over a thousand events nationally spearheaded by the AFL-CIO to “defend the middle class.”

The “We Are One” actions mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination while leading Memphis sanitation workers striking for union recognition, and links it with the recent upsurge of resistance to efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to roll back union rights for public workers.   Read the rest of this entry »

Hyatt workers to call boycott

Hyatt workers locked in tough contract negotiations – and hit by job cuts and reduced hours leading to chronic understaffing and increased injuries – will announce a boycott of one or more Chicago-area Hyatt properties tomorrow.

They’ll be joined by leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis announcing support from 200 Jewish leaders nationwide, at a 12:30 p.m. press conference in front of Hyatt Global Headquarters, 71 S. Wacker (Tuesday, August 24).

The rabbis will call on Hyatt to meet biblical obligations to treat workers fairly, and will pledge to honor worker-led boycotts and strikes of Hyatt properties.

Chicago will become the eighth U.S. city with boycotts of Hyatt hotels.  Chicago is home to the hotel chain’s corporate headquarters – and the base of the politically-connected Pritzker family, which controls the corporation.

UNITE HERE Local 1 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at four area Hyatt hotels on July 29.  They are among 6,500 Chicago area hotel workers who have been in negotiations since their contracts expired on almost a year ago.

Religious leaders have come out in support of Hyatt workers since 98 nonunion housekeepers were fired in Boston last year and replaced with subcontract workers at minimum wage.   Faith leaders participated in protests at Hyatt’s first shareholders meeting at the McCormick Hyatt in June and in civil disobedience at the Hyatt Regency in July.

Hyatt is “using the recession as an excuse to cut jobs,” said Annemarie Strassel of Local 1.  In ongoing negotiations, the company is proposing a long-term contract that would “flatten wages for years to come” and roll back healthcare benefits, she said.

“Hyatt is trying to lock workers into the recession at a time when the company is profitable and the hotel industry is projecting a recovery,” she said.

Hotel workers want safe jobs

Hotel workers have succeeded in raising hospitality industry compensation well above the poverty level in contracts won in 2003 and 2006. Now they’re fighting to restore jobs and reduce workloads that can cause crippling injuries.

Citywide hotel contracts expired Monday for 6000 employees represented by UNITE-HERE Local 1, and the union says talks are stalled over demands that staffing levels be restored.

Hotels have laid off huge numbers of employees in the current recession and are “crying poor” in negotiations, though “profits are through the roof in the last decade,” said Annemarie Strassel of Local 1. “We’re calling on the industry to bring people back to work as the recession lifts, so workers aren’t doing the jobs of two or three people.”

Hotels never restored staffing levels after layoffs during the post 9/11 downturn in 2001, Strassel said. A 2006 study by the union found hotel housekeepers increasingly subject to preventable, disabling injuries, with a competitive “amenities race” on top of reduced staffing levels creating dangerous workloads.

[See the 2006 Newstip, Mothers Day event focuses on hotel workers’ injuries.]

“We’re calling on the industry to stop profiting on the backs of their workers,” she said.

Local 1 has raised wages for housekeepers from $8.83 an hour in 2002 to $14.60 today, along with health care and other benefits. In cities without union contracts, employees of the same chains earn near the minimum wage, and many rely on Medicaid and other public health programs.

The local is currently leading the longest hotel strike in U.S. labor history at the Congress Hotel, while the owners of the recently-organized Blackstone Hotel are waging “a fierce anti-union campaign,” Strassel said.

The local has charged that the company is behind a union decertification drive which followed the union’s victory in an employee vote last December; in July the company fired 15 employees including members of the union’s organizing and negotiating committees. Community leaders are joining in support of Blackstone workers, Strassel said.

Known for its intensive grassroots approach to organizing, UNITE HERE also faces citywide hotel contract negotiations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A thousand hotel workers marched in downtown San Francisco when contracts expired there on August 14.

Congress strikers back ordinance

The six-year-old Congress Hotel strike is now the longest current strike in the U.S. and the longest-running hotel strike in U.S. labor history, the Chicago Tribune notes. 

On Monday morning, Congress strikers and their union, UNITE-HERE Local 1, hold a press conference prior to the City Council Finance Committee hearing.  They’re supporting a “right to know” ordinance that would require hotels to inform customers making reservations when a prolonged strike is under way.

The ordinance is intended to protect visitors to Chicago who may face inferior service at hotels in the midst of labor conflicts, as well as “Chicago’s reputation as a global convention and tourism destination,” said Annemarie Strassel of Local 1.  The union has collected reports of poor service at the Congress.

A similar ordinance was narrowly defeated in 2005, but now 42 of 50 aldermen are signed on as cosponsors — including 13 aldermen who voted against it four years ago.

Union squabble

David Moberg reports from the recent Chicago convention of UNITE-HERE; he thinks the union may have reason to be optimistic as it faces off against the much larger SEIU, which is trying to move in on the hotel and gaming industries in some cities.

SEIU president Andy Stern finally seems to be uniting the labor movement — albeit against him. Leaders of all the major unions in the Change To Win Federation [except SEIU, obviously] joined leaders of the AFT, AFSCME, CWA, and Steelworkers in backing UNITE-HERE against raids by SEIU or the group it’s sponsoring, Workers United.  UNITE-HERE charges that SEIU is working with employers to oppose hotel organizing drives and support decertification; SEIU denies the charges.

UNITE-HERE president John Wilhelm said the union “wants to be seen as the bottom-up, aggressive alternative to SEIU, which he described as the top-down, cheap contract union,” Moberg says. Stern favors a quick-growth strategy of organizing, often by cutting deals with employers, while UNITE-HERE stresses a longer process of forming grassroots worker committees.

Labor Notes has reported that some new members of Workers United are opposing the split.  And the paper has details on attempts by Workers United to move in on UNITE-HERE organizing drives, which they say have been “mostly stymied.”

“Central labor councils have condemned SEIU for aiding the split, supporting UNITE HERE while the union refuses any settlement that allows SEIU to organize hotel and gaming workers,” according to Labor Notes.

Contract talks are upcoming for hotel workers in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities.  A court ruling on the legality of the UNITE-HERE breakup is expected this month.

Governor to join Congress Hotel picket

Governor Pat Quinn will join a mass picket of the Congress Hotel on Monday, the sixth anniversary of a strike there by members of UNITE-HERE Local 1.

Monday will mark the sixth year since Local 1 members voted to strike after hotel management unilaterally froze wages and cut benefits.

In the past six months strikers have dramatically stepped up outreach, with over 500 meetings with political leaders, convention planners, and others, said Annemarie Stassel of Local 1. They have diverted $700,000 worth of business from the hotel, she said.

In addition, 42 aldermen have cosponsored an ordinance that would require hotels to notify customers when they are undergoing a prolonged strike.

The strike takes on added significance with the citywide contract covering the rest of Chicago’s unionized hotels expiring at the end of the summer. That contract covers 6,000 Local 1 members, Strassel said.

At this point, a housekeeper at the Congress earns $8.83 an hour, compared to $14.60 an hour at other unionized hotels, she said.

Drawing support from the broader labor movement and community organizations, the annual mass picket and rally — which then-Senator Barack Obama joined twice, most recently in 2007 — will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Monday, June 15.

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