Labor unions were commonplace when I grew up. Four of my uncles were union members and both of my grandfathers were union organizers. In my generation and that of my uncles and grandparents, labor disputes and worker’s rights were covered extensively in the newspapers and most newspapers had at least one full-time labor reporter. However, media coverage of labor issues has declined as membership in unions declined.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010, only 11.9 percent of workers (14.7 million) were union members, down from 12.3 percent in 2009. The number of union members peaked in 1979 at 21.0 million and 1954 saw the highest percentage of union workers when 28.3% of workers were union members. According to Union Membership Trends in the United States, “…the wages of union workers are in the range of 10% to 30% higher than the wages of nonunion workers.”
You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker, “The people who brought you the weekend – the Labor Movement” but most of us take for granted the benefits won by unions: the eight-hour work day, weekends, sick leave, paid vacation, equal pay for women.
(Check out Made In Dagenham for a bit of mind blowing feminist history),
In February of this year, a series of ongoing demonstrations occurred in Wisconsin to protest Act 10 (also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill) which, among other controversial provisions, limits the ability of public employees to collectively bargain for wages. Following these protests, Wisconsin citizens launched an epic recall, targeting eight Democrats and eight Republicans for recall because of their vote or actions relating to Act 10. Ultimately nine recall elections were held, the most ever held at any one time in our history. Previous to these nine recall elections, there have been a total of only 20 recall elections (13 were successful). On August 16, the nine Wisconsin recall elections were held and five were successful.
This is the context within which I received a June email from Ainara Greenfree, volunteer for the labor union UNITE HERE She emailed me as an advisory board member of the Holistic Moms Network (HMN), a national non-profit connecting parents who are interested in holistic health and green living. HMN was planning to hold its 2011 Natural Living Conference this fall at the Hilton Long Beach, a hotel that UNITE HERE intends to boycott. Ms. Greenfree’s email asked HMN not to hold their conference at the Hilton Long Beach in solidarity with the impending boycott.
HMN founder and executive director, Nancy Massotto, responded immediately to say, “We are discussing alternatives and would love to support the workers, but as a volunteer non-profit organization find that we are in a very difficult position because we lack the resources to change the event on short notice.” Nancy estimated privately that it might cost more than $10,000 to move the venue, not a small amount for an organization staffed wholly by volunteers; Massatto herself takes no salary.
In response to an email from Massatto inquiring about the labor dispute, Michael Platt, General Manager of Hilton Long Beach wrote, “We respect our employees’ right to fair and legal process that allows them to make a decision on whether they want to unionize or not. We support the secret ballot election process conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRG) to protect our employees right to vote in a neutral, private environment. Unfortunately, UNITE HERE has refused to participate in an NLRB election at our hotel.”
According to a press release from The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, “…the Hilton Long Beach has been the site of a bitter labor dispute since June of 2008. At the core of this dispute is the hotel’s refusal to honor an employee petition for a fair process to allow them to make their own decisions, free of intimidation or interference from management, over whether to form a union. …Other hotels such as the Four Points LAX, Sheraton Gateway, Westin LAX, Hilton Glendale, Marriott Downtown Los Angeles and the Radisson LAX, have already agreed to this same process for deciding whether to unionize.”
The average yearly income for a Long Beach hospitality, tourism and art worker is $19,000, a wage below the Federal Poverty Level. Worker’s complaints allege that HEI Hotels, a hotel investment company that owns more than 30 properties nationally under the brand names of Marriott, Sheraton, Hilton and Embassy Suites, violates worker rights in a number of ways, including cutting workers, cutting hours, limiting work supplies, failing to honor rest periods entitled under state law and offering costly family health care benefits. Obviously, these workers don’t have a lactation lounge or break time during which to pump.
Despite the financial constraints of HMN, Massatto is sympathetic to the plight of UNITE HERE (her father was head of the teacher’s union) and has moved the HMN 2011 conference from the Hilton Long Beach to the Irvine Marriott. The Long Beach Hilton has threatened to hold her to the contract she cancelled because of the labor dispute; she could use our help.
It’s imperative that we support organizations that do the right thing, something too rare today. I’m hoping that our community will support HMN by attending the conference in Irvine. The conference will be held October 1 and has an extraordinary roster of speakers. I’ve spoken at two of the past HMN conferences and they are well organized, packed full of content and highly inspirational. There’s nothing like getting together with like-minded parents.
Keynote Speakers are Robyn O’Brien, activist and author of The UnHealthy Truth About Our Food and Mayim Bialik actress and author of the forthcoming Parenting by Intuition: From Hollywood to Holistic Mom. Mothering’s own expert and author, Lauren Feder, MD, will be hosting a workshop on Making an Informed Vaccination Choice. Feder’s workshop alone would be worth going to the conference.
If you can’t attend the conference, make a donation to HMN online.
The next time I travel, I’m going to check the Unite Here website for hotels involved in labor disputes before I book a room.
The Wisconsin recalls, the recent Verizon strike and the UNITE HERE challenge to Holistic Moms herald an emerging issue for our times, the issue of worker’s rights. Thanks to Nancy Massatto for providing us such a good example of a compassionate response to a complex issue.