This was originally posted on the Holistic Moms Network blog in August.
This month the Holistic Moms Network took a huge step in support of working-class mothers that could ultimately mean the financial ruin of the organization. They moved their Natural Living Conference from a boycotted hotel (the Hilton Long Beach) to the Irvine Marriott. In 2008, the workers at the Hilton Long Beach signed union cards and joined UNITE HERE Local 11, the union that represents workers in the hospitality industry in the U.S. and Canada. With poverty level wages (average yearly income of Long Beach hospitality workers is $19,000), a high cost of living (housing for Long Beach area hotel workers average 57.54% of their income), and limited access to affordable healthcare, the workers at the Hilton Long Beach believe that by joining a union their standard of living will significantly improve as they transform poverty jobs into middle-class jobs through collective bargaining.
Does this sound like an overstatement to you?
For me and many of my coworkers, it was reality. In 2002, I got a job as a waitress at an upscale hotel in downtown Chicago to support myself while I returned to graduate school. I joined the union – UNITE HERE Local 1. But our union contract was weak. Compared to other cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco, we made only a fraction of their wages and paid much more for health insurance. Under new union leadership, the members of Local 1 organized a citywide campaign to increase our wages and lower the cost of health insurance. And, we won. Almost overnight, hotel workers throughout Chicago saw the quality of their lives improve. For me, it meant that when I had my first son, I was paid short-term disability leave during the three months I stayed home after his birth. When I returned to work, I was able to demand time and space to pump so that I could continue to breastfeed my son. And, with contract language that required management to provide a regular work schedule, I was not scrambling to find childcare like so many other working mothers.
But for workers at the Hilton Long Beach this is not the case. In a survey conducted by the union, in one hotel 38% of the workers have used some form of public assistance, 39% did not have health insurance, and 24 % worked in more than one job. In fact, Long Beach residents experience two very different realities. For service workers like hotel workers, it is a reality filled with financial insecurity, housing shortages, and reliance on public aid.
Does this sound like a sustainable future to you?
The mission of the HMN is “to build a healthier and more sustainable future.” By respecting the boycott and supporting the workers at the Hilton Long Beach, HMN has done exactly that! What are you going to do? How are you going to build a sustainable future? Without your support, HMN will loose thousands of dollars because of their commitment to this mission, consider donating to HMN to help offset this loss. And, please respect hotel workers by not patronizing boycotted hotels. Next time you plan your trip, go to UNITE HERE’s hotel guide to see which hotels are keeping us from building a sustainable future.
About Emily E. LB. Twarog
Emily is a professor of labor studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She spent over fifteen years working in the food service industry and was a member of UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago prior to getting her PhD in American History. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two sons.