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The other day in The Story Right Under the Nose of Yearly Kos, I wrote to you about Las Vegas, the host city for yearly Kos--which also happens to be the home of the most powerful urban union movement in the country, one that has provided a middle class life to thousands of service workers and fueled economic expansion in the fastest growing city in the United States.

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),,  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.

UNITE HERE, the union of hotel, gaming, and clothing workers, is undertaking HWR because service sector employment--symbolized by Walmart's 1.2 million U.S. employees, but composed of millions of other workers--now dominates the new American economy.  And this point cannot be made too strongly: THERE IS NO INHERENT REASON THESE JOBS MUST BE LOW PAID AND GROSSLY EXPLOITATIVE. The difference between the kind of well paying jobs where workers are treated with respect, and low paying jobs where workers are treated as disposable can be summarized in one word:  Unions.  

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

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Originally posted to debs on Sun Jun 18, 2006 at 09:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Why it's important for Kos readers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Computer users are subject to the same overuse injuries as hotel workers.

    Help yourself:

    Even though I'm from the super "white collar class" I have come to know and love the hotel workers because we have so much to share and they are very caring.

    I have the greatest respect for one hotel cleaner who testified (in Spanish) about her musculo-skeletal repetitive strain injuries (her children had to pull her panties down for her so she could use the toilet and she could no longer braid her daughter's hair) but who also had enough public spirit to give an impassioned warning to the legislators and audience in attendance:  "The  glasses in the bathroom are not clean enough. You need to know this. Don't drink from them!"

  •  Question for debs (0+ / 0-)
    As in Eugene Victor Debs? One we should all get to know better.
  •  I'm wearing my red t-shirt (0+ / 0-)

    proudly, right now!  People have been asking about it.    Keep fighting the good fight!

    "Le sens commun n'est pas si commun." -Voltaire

    by eej on Sun Jun 18, 2006 at 10:57:11 AM PDT

  •  Highly reccomended (0+ / 0-)

    Unionization is our best option when fighting against corporate domination of politics. And it's the best way to fight for economic justice for all Americans.

  •  Thanks for posting this... (0+ / 0-)
    and here's the [hotlink} to Hotelworkersrising!
  •  Thanks for posting this... (0+ / 0-)
    and here's the hotlink to Hotelworkersrising!
  •  Excellent update, thanks. (0+ / 0-)

    I'll be looking for your diaries on this issue, at a minimum.  Meanwhile, thank goodness for SusanG and diary rescue.

  •  UNITE HERE in Long Beach CA's Local Election (0+ / 0-)

    (WARNING: Diary Pimping)

    I posted a diary about UNITE HERE's serious actions in LBC's city election. Their support probably elected the 2nd district city council person... which will probably mean a "Labor Peace Agreement" which forces hotels to negotiate with a newly unionized workforce.

    See YearlyKos and A Local Election Surprise

  •  Thanks for the diary! n/t (0+ / 0-)


    For business reasons, I must preserve the outward sign of sanity.

    --Mark Twain

    by redglare on Mon Jun 19, 2006 at 05:24:50 AM PDT

  •  Let us know how we can help (0+ / 0-)

    Unions are the key to progress.  LEt us know how people who are not in unions or in jobs that can be unionized can help.  Keep on posting on this important issue!

  •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hugo Estrada

    Thanks for the great diary Debs - and for the great one the other day! As a long time reader and seldom poster / commenter on Kos I've been excited to see so many diaries recently about labor.  I have to confess to getting frustrated and annoyed more than once by what I perceived to be a generally anti-union sentiment among the community here.  Anti-unionism which I realized was coming from a place of ignorance or outdated stereotypes. Thanks to you and Nathan and some others I see that changing... and I'm excited to help out!

  •  There are many important labor fights (0+ / 0-)

    In my opinion, the most important will be the UAW vs. Delphi fight, which would shut down GM production worldwide if UAW decides to strike. Delphi wants to cut wages from $27/hr to $10/hr (!) and tear up the contracts and throw away pensions.

    Thanks for the great diary. As you pointed out,

    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.

    YES! Besides the obvious moral reasons to organize unions, labor organizing is a fantastic way to turn red areas blue. It can be a difficult sell to say "hey, vote for Kerry, because take it from me, he will do X, Y and Z that will make your life better." What works much better is, "Hey, why don't you and me and all your coworkers band together to double your wages, get your kid health care, make your workplace safe, and bring some dignity to your job." Much later, the whole voting blue thing takes care of itself. When people see for themselves that the Republicans are getting in the way of their goals, of their livelihood, they don't need to be told who to vote for. This method of creating Democratic voters (i) isn't as patronizing, and (ii) gives people a sense that they can change the circumstances of their lives, and (iii) puts people in direct contact with the problems and possible solutions so they see for themselves what to do.

    Thanks again for the diary, and please keep us updated in terms of what we can do to help. And if you need bodies for a rally or picket anywhere in California, let us know about it.

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