Today, I want to call the attention of the Daily Kos community to the most important labor fight occurring in North America this year: Hotel Workers Rising (HWR), http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/, the struggle of 60,000 hotel workers vs. multi-national giants like Hilton in cities from Toronto to Honolulu to New York. These worker's fight is to improve the safety and health conditions, living standards, and respect they receive at their jobs.
In addition to the Las Vegas example noted in my earlier posting, consider this example: In Phoenix, where hotel union density (the number of rooms under union contract) is under 5%, those union housekeepers only earn $7.60 per hour, and, obviously, non-union workers earn even less with poor or no benefits. Why? They lack the bargaining power that that the institutional clout of the union and their collective empowerment provides them when density is substantially greater. The proof? In San Francisco, where density is over 85%, the wages of union housekeepers are over $15.00 per hour; in New York City, with similar density, the wages of housekeepers are $20.00 per hour. These numbers spell the difference between poverty level incomes for a family of four, and a decent life for oneself and one's children.
This year, my wife, who teaches literature at Georgetown University, had an exceptional student who will probably go onto to a professional job like most of her affluent classmates at that elite university. But this young woman's mother is a Mexican-American hotel maid at a unionized casino in Las Vegas. That young women's intelligence and determination couldn't just be pulled like a needle out of haystack--it had to be cultivated by the support of the one institution that, historically, has done more than any other to reduce inequality of wealth and income in the United States: labor unions.
Moreover, unions have historically protected workers from employers seeking shortcuts to quick profits made literally on the backs of injured workers. We've seen this, tragically, in the non-union coal industry this year, but it is an all too common fact of life in industries from meat packing to, yes, hospitality. Injury rates for housekeepers are among the highest in the service industry. Luxury beds, e.g. Westin's "Heavenly Bed", weigh over 100 lbs., sometimes heavier than the houskeepers themselves--muscular-skeletal injuries are common and increasing. Only an enforceable union contract and a health and safety committee made up of workers themselves is able to limit work loads to manageable levels.
And, as Nathan Newman and I have noted, the link between a stronger labor movement and electing more progressive Democratic candidates is not only obvious, it's mandatory: We simply can't drive progressive, political change in this country without a labor movement much, much stronger than the one we have now. When it was stronger, even Nixon initiated OSHA and EPA (that's right, those were a Republican president's programs....), and, of course, Democrats could push Medicare and Social Security through Congress. Without it....well--do I really have to tell you?
See, for example, this important article by John Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE's Hospitality Division, about understanding the political demographics represented by the Latino service workers engaged in the HWR campaign:
Over the next several months, contracts for HWR employees with Hilton, Hyatt, and other large companies are expiring in Boston, Chicago, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Monterey (CA), New York, and Toronto. In San Francisco, the contract expired in 2004, and the hotel employers have yet to agree to an equitable settlement.
So we will be asking you to support these workers--the folks who work hard to keep your room spotless when you're on the road--as this fights heats up, both "virtually" via the internet and at events in communities where workers are fighting to improve their lives: You can keep yourself updated about this fight at http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.