In a bold move, one showing solidarity in the labor movement, six union presidents wrote a letter to Change.org’s founder and CEO Ben Rattray that encourages him to clearly articulate his company’s position on workers’ rights and collective bargaining.
While we are encouraged by the fact that you have decided to end your relationship with both StudentsFirst and Stand for Children, we are very concerned that you have not yet defined a clear policy regarding prospective clients who have a history of attacking workers and supporting the dismantling of public services. An unequivocal public statement from you articulating Change.org’s position on collective bargaining, and on workers’ rights more generally, would go a long way toward clarifying what your brand represents.
The letter, dated July 10th, comes in the wake of Change.org’s decision to cease its work with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization once the contract ends. Last month Stand for Children ran a petition on the progressive for-proft company’s site asking for Chicago teachers and the Board of Education to come to the bargaining table. All the while, Stand for Children has worked to undermine the teachers union. Progressive community pressure that started from a Chicago teacher forced Change.org to do the right thing.
One Day Longer. That’s what they say on the picket line when you ask when a strike will end. The dedication to the cause continues on until a just contract can finally settle a dispute between employer and workers. For nine years now, workers from Congress Hotel in Chicago have walked the picket line in a struggle for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.
By now most of the workers have moved onto others jobs but remain invested in the fight. They spend an hour or two before and/or after work on the picket line and come home to their families. You may ask a common question, why?
“I hope it helps them,” said Imelda Martinez, a former Congress Hotel housekeeper. “We fight for our benefits, for fair pay, and justice.”
Martinez has struggled to balance family life, work at another hotel, and the strike. Her son served in the Army and did a tour in Iraq. She hopes the strike will end one day on a positive note.
Workers in other Chicagoland hotels know a fight is also coming their way. Just weeks after Unite HERE Local 1 and Congress Hotel celebrate a tenth anniversary, the union will be embroiled in contract negotiations with the other hotel chains. Mark your calendars now. August 31, 2013.
The fight pushes on not for a few dozen service workers at one hotel but for a city full of service workers. Workers that ensure a clean place to stay for the entire tourism industry that Chicago needs. A unionized workforce provides rules to keep employees safe as much as it provides guidelines on keeping rooms clean. Nonunion places overwork their employees and push housekeepers to clean a room in 15 minutes or less. Disgusting if you ask me.
Chicago housekeepers were making just $8.83 an hour when the strike began but now earn $15.70 an hour, according to Unite HERE.
“The sacrifice the strikers have made to go out on the line daily speaks to not only their dedication, but to the intense belief these individuals have for what they’re doing,” said Henry Tamarin, Unite HERE Local 1 President, in a statement. “The strikers know third dedication to the boycott will help working families now and in the future.”
In 2003, the Congress Hotel tried to freeze employee wages, eliminate healthcare benefits, and demanded the ability to outsource the work done by union employees. It was a power grab that the workers refused to allow as they walked out on June 15, 2003.
“[The hotel owner] doesn’t want to pay anything. We have to keep fighting. Every time it is the same thing but we want to get a contract. We’ve been fighting for eight years. We are not going to give up and say alright we lost,” declared Guadalupe Perez in an interview last fall.
Chicago-based rapper, Young General, performed his song dedicated to the efforts of the strikers. He teamed up with Columbia College students to produce the music video below:
More than 2,700 people, the overwhelming majority coming from Chicago, signed a petition demanding that Change.org stop supporting corporate education advocacy organizations. Well, Change.org decided to respond and it should not come as a surprise that the social justice oriented site cannot see its own wrongdoing.
A full response can be seen at the end of this post but I want to dissect some of the more egregious parts. Change.org’s Director of Communications, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, acknowledges, in a personal way, that Stand for Children opposes the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike authorization vote and links it to the disgusting tactic of crossing a picket line. So, we’ve set the stage here well. Union busting is truly disgusting. It’s is just one of the results corporate education organizations want to see. There’s more.
We’re an impact-maximizing company, not a profit-maximizing company. And we believe openness maximizes our mission. So our client policy allows sponsored petitions from any organization–even groups that our staff doesn’t agree with, and our campaigns staff would never work to support–so long as they don’t advance discrimination or private corporate benefit.
This is the first false claim in regards to allowing Stand for Children (along with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization) to buy progressives emails under false and misleading petitions. The corporate education agenda is one dedicated to private corporate benefit. We will get back to this.
WellPoint executives hemmed and hawed at questions pertaining to political spending at Wednesday’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Health plan members and union leaders, who represent members with WellPoint health insurance, wanted to ask CEO Angela Braly why the company spends money to influence policy that contradicts their business model. Outside a group of people wearing white jumpsuits labeled “WellPoint cleanup crew” took care of the toxic money coming from the company’s political spending. They were denied entry to the hotel and had to leave the toxic mess upstairs.
“WellPoint and its subsidiaries give financial support to the anti-union governors of Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, who are trying to nullify the Affordable Care Act and roll back workers’ right to bargain for a better life,” said the organization Health Care for America Now.
The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, mandates individuals to purchase health insurance and thus providing millions of more customers to companies like WellPoint. Nonetheless, WellPoint’s CEO serves on the board of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a group that contributed $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fight against health insurance reform. This despite the company endorsing key provision the chamber was against.
Three-quarters of their political contributions went to Republicans in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Chief architect of the Republican budget agenda, Paul Ryan, received $15,000 in the last two cycles alone. Ryan proposed a budget that would essentially do away with Medicare and has blasted Obama’s health care plan. WellPoint has spent $4.4 million dollars on campaign contributions since the 2006 cycle, according to records from OpenSecrets.
“They use our money to fund other organizations that are fighting collective bargaining rights, workers’ rights, and immigration rights,” said Michael Torres, AFSCME Local 3395 that represents Indianapolis librarians. Torres and others were able to ask questions during a question and answer session at the end of the meeting after everything had already been voted on. Not content with that one person took to the mic and encouraged shareholders to vote against the board. Michael Pryce-Jones, of CTW Investment Group, wanted to speak to the shareholders about a few of the board members conflicts of interest. He was denied the opportunity and escorted out of the meeting by security. More on the group’s reasoning can be found here in the pdf and in a short interview with Pryce-Jones below.
As it stands WellPoint does not have a committee to oversee its political spending. This can lead to serious conflicts of interest without proper oversight. It also serves as a cause of why WellPoint participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act when the company endorsed it.
One shareholder presented Braly with 15,000 signatures on petition asking for more disclosure. The vote on greater disclosure took place prior to the open question and answer session. Shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the idea of greater disclosure but then again most shares tend to be held by executives.
Between 60 and 70 people marched outside of the hotel chanting “WellPoint get off it. People over politics.” “This is what democracy looks like.” Meanwhile a large balloon blimp calling for a stop to corporate greed floated above. At roughly 9 a.m. the meeting adjourned and executives walked out glaring at the protesters. Activist shareholders soon followed and lead a march to WellPoint’s headquarters a couple blocks away. The insurance company has nearly 34 million customers, trailing only UnitedHealth Group, and runs Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates in 14 states.
WellPoint security locked down the building as protesters carried yellow tape declaring a quarantine of the area due to the toxic money that dropped from the ballon.
“They skirted around the issues,” said Dave Wallace, President AFSCME, Local 1117 in Los Angeles. “I wanted to ask why they are using our members premiums to fund legislation that will cause our demise.”
Over the last four years Braly has received $21.63 million in total compensation while the stock price of her company has dropped three percent. No word on what they have received on their investment of $4.4 million to dozens of federal politicians but things look good for the company… not for the people.
I’ve said this before but my generation has figured out that the American Dream as told to us is nothing more than a lie. And we are pissed.
Parents told us, because they believed it too, that working hard and obtaining a college education are the two keys to success. We would graduate with a good job and more than likely in a field that we wanted to spend our time in. It would be the foundation for the life we would build with our loved one and even live in a nice home. Now college graduates between 2006 and 2011 find themselves without a full-time job and massive student loan debt. The American Dream became the American Nightmare for many of them.
The study from Rutgers University shows that just half of graduates in the six-year timespan have full-time jobs. Additionally, more than half carry loan debt exceeding $20,000. As a result more than half still receive help from their family in meeting their basic needs. One in four live with their parents.
“The cream of the crop of America’s youth, graduates of four-year colleges and universities, believe the American dream of upward economic mobility may have stopped with them,” says the report.
The economic crisis, caused by reckless banks and an unaccountable Wall Street, crushed the dreams of millions of 20 somethings. It left many, like myself, to wonder how in the hell to get life back on track. Thousands of young people took to the streets in Madison followed by Wall Street and dozens of major cities around the nation. The anger that was initially aimed at the lie turned towards the cause. Corporate interests and a small minority of wealthy interests stole the dream through the purchase of our democracy.
There is one way to get it back. Organizing together. United together we stand… divided we fall right? Well for decades everyday people fought against each other for the next promotion or for the better tax rates by moving around. It forced this race to the bottom and corporations were only too happy to push harder.
As Robert Struckman notes, the equation lacks a vital variable. Workers must have leverage. Collective bargaining and collective action.
It’s well-documented that when workers—young or older—bargain together in unions, the result is better jobs, better pay, better benefits, more job security and the possibility of a secure retirement.
But that has been taken away over the last few decades. I’ve already written about what that has done to our workforce. We are more educated but yet we earn less. This is not a recipe for a burgeoning middle class or a thriving economy. It is more akin to one for the creation of a debtor nation. So get involved. It matters to you and even your child.
“Bank of America, Bad for America” went the chant of protesters outside of the Charlotte headquarters with a large ball and chain marked with the word “DEBT” sitting it the background. Meanwhile shareholders piled into the annual meeting that serves as a formality of transparency for publicly traded companies . Unlike previous years, executives experienced something more than formality as people armed with shares of the big bank came to the mic demanding answers and accountability for Bank of America’s alleged fraudulent mortgage practices, funding in predatory payday loan stores, investing in dirty coal, and crashing the economy. The laundry list of wrongdoing by the bank cost millions of families their homes and their health.
According to a Bloomberg report from the inside a shareholder complained of his stocks loss of value and called the bank a “felon.” CEO Brian Moynihan responded with a loaded defense saying, “We abide by the law every day.” That is anything but true.
Even after spending millions upon millions of dollars in lobbying fees over the last few years the banks efforts to write the laws failed them. If, as Moynihan suggests, the bank followed the law then why did they need to settle a foreclosure fraud case with the federal government? The illegal practices of the bank, and others because BofA did not act alone, caused tremendous personal harm to hardworking people.
Maria Reyes came from California to tell her heartbreaking story. Before Bank of America bought Countrywide her family bought a home in Hayward, located in the Bay Area, but the conditions of the loan were later found to be deceitful. Countrywide put down her husband’s income as $5,000 a month when he was actually on workers’ compensation. To make matters worse her two sons, also living in and paying for the home, lost their jobs in the construction business during the economic collapse. She only had the house for five years before Bank of America refused to work with her and foreclosed on the home. You can hear Maria tell her story through a translator in the video below.
Robert Kerns, a lawyer in Las Vegas, works with families experiencing similar problems. One client that he could talk about consisted of a outright lies and fraudulent practices against an Ethiopian couple that had become naturalized citizens. During the process to obtain a mortgage for their first home they were told one thing while paperwork said another. After they handed over their life-savings for a down payment their proposed mortgage payment doubled. When they threatened to go elsewhere the bank told them they would have to forfeit the down payment. An outright lie but only detectable with the knowledge of the law like Kerns practices.
These stories are not unique to just a few people. It is a story shared by millions of American homeowners who banks knowingly misguided in order to profit. At the same time Moynihan has received millions in compensation, including $7 million last year alone, while the stock price of the bank has dropped in half since he started in 2010. Prior to the financial collapse Bank of America paid a 64 cent dividend, it now sits at a penny.
A mic check commenced after two hours of questions from activist shareholders and dodging by Moynihan.
“Many of you people may think there are a lot of crazies here today, but this is a pushback,” an attendant told Moynihan moments before. “You’re hearing despair.”
Moynihan’s practiced answers gave little comfort to people struggling to stay in their homes or the one’s fighting for cleaner air. According to Sonny Garcia of National People’s Action, victims of the foreclosure crisis stressed the difficulty in working with Bank of America’s customer service and loan modification process. Moynihan responded with the feel good answer of talking with bank representatives after the shareholders meeting. Quick on their feet an organizer from Garcia’s organization responded appropriately:
“So what we have to do to get loan modifications is to buy a stock, stand in line for two hours, get shook down by the police, get intimidated by other security just so we can get a loan modification.”
It contrasts with their recent announcement that the bank is sending out 200,000 letters asking for mortgage holders to apply for principal write down. But digging deeper into the announcement reveals it at a nice publicity stunt as David Dayen notes.
Protesters want to highlight the hypocrisy coming from Bank of America executives and other billion dollar corporations. Their continued ownership of our nation’s democracy has harmed the lives of many of the protesters. Prior to the rally on Wednesday, organizers staged a boxing match titled “Bank versus America” which pitted a person portraying BofA CEO Brian Moynihan and another representing the 99 percent. In the end, the 99 percent won but for now the fight continues.
The youth burdened with massive student loan debt. Homeowners pledged by banks unwilling to work with them. Asthma, cancer, stroke, heart disease added to communities due to dirty coal and mountaintop removal. Neighborhoods and communities destroyed because of a big bank’s desire for profit over everyday people.
Hotel housekeepers won a big battle this week in their ongoing struggle against Hyatt’s abusive practices. OSHA completed a year-long investigation that followed a complaint filed on behalf of 3,500 workers from eight different cities. The on the job injuries suffered by housekeepers was found to be severe enough for OSHA to issue its first ever Hazard Alert Letter in the hotel industry.
“For years, we have asked Hyatt to make simple changes that would ease the toll on our bodies,” said Maria Soto in a press release. Soto works as a housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio and has been injured cleaning rooms. “Now our voices are being heard, and the federal government is joining us in calling on Hyatt to make our jobs safer.”
The American Journal of Industrial Medicine examined 50 hotel properties from five different companies in 2010. It found Hyatt housekeepers had the highest rate of injuries compared to the four other companies. OSHA’s letter to the company seems to back up the study and the agency recommended the hotel chain implement a series of changes to their housekeeping policies. For years Hyatt housekeepers went without long-handled mops and had to clean the bathrooms on their hands and knees. Many of the Hyatt locations were recently renovated resulting in heavier mattresses and thus more straining for the workers. OSHA recommended Hyatt use fitted sheets in order to lessen the likelihood of harming one’s back.
“Two years ago, the Hyatt Regency renovated the hotel and brought in larger, heavier beds. It makes my job much more difficult. I can’t lift the mattress because my left arm feels like it’s coming out of socket. We are hard-working women, not machines,” said Angela Martinez, a Hyatt housekeeper with 23 years experience. Martinez made this comment to me last fall during a week-long strike at the downtown hotel.
In some complaints housekeepers tell of workdays consisting of 30 rooms to clean. That leaves just 15 minutes to fully clean a hotel room before the next guest arrives. I am currently in the midst of doing a decent amount to traveling and staying at hotels. This would not be the type of place I’d want to stay. I want a clean room and if that means spending more for the tools and time that the housekeeper needs then please do so.
Hyatt does not seem to care about the actual cleanliness for its guests. It just wants the appearance while caring more about the company’s bottom line. The hotel chain has pushed back against the study mentioned above and the complaints of its workers by stating. “The close association of housekeeping with routine life also raises difficult questions about causation. One’s injury is at least as likely to have occurred during non-work activities like sports, dancing or performing routine chores in one’s home.”
Martinez had this to say in regards to the OSHA action:
“We have asked again and again for Hyatt to ease our pain and to stop treating us like we are machines. We are still asked to clean the bathroom floors on our hands and knees. Now we’re so happy to hear that the government is standing with us and sending a message to Hyatt.”
Sounds spot on to me. In the meantime I will avoid Hyatt Hotels and encourage you to do the same.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2013 | Have any questions? Send me an email.