April 30, 2010

Video: Troublemakers Flip Conference into Action with "Hyatt 100"

Twelve hundred troublemakers found themselves inside the Dearborn Hyatt for Labor Notes 2010 last weekend. So they took the opportunity to march on the boss. First they heard from Aracelly Arango, one of 100 Boston hotel workers fired from three non-union Hyatt hotels last summer.

The "Hyatt 100" were tricked into training their replacements--subcontracted workers who make half the wages and receive no benefits. Since then, they've linked up with UNITE HERE Local 26 in an effort to get their jobs back, and union recognition too. Arango urged support for a boycott in Boston that has drained millions in business from the Hyatt.

She joined Labor Notes at a meeting with management inside Dearborn's union shop to ratchet up the pressure. The Boston fight has lit a fire under organizing drives at Hyatt hotels in San Antonio, Indianapolis, and Long Beach. If a national boycott emerges from the multi-city campaign to organize and win strong contracts at hotel giants, Labor Notes 2012 will not be at the Hyatt.

Labor Notes Conference 2010 - Hyatt 100 Action from Labor Notes on Vimeo.

April 28, 2010

Labor Notes Conference 2010: Troublemakers Join Restaurant Worker Pickets (Video)

A long caravan of cars pulled out of the Labor Notes Conference last Friday to join restaurant workers down the street in front of Andiamo, a fine dining chain in Metro Detroit. The raucous march and street theatrics were the latest action in a months-long campaign organized by Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan over Andiamo's wage theft violations, racial and sexual discrimination, and retaliatory firings.

Among the marchers were ROC members in town for Labor Notes 2010 from all over the country, who have their own workplace justice campaigns underway in New Orleans, Maine, Chicago, and New York.

Videos were taken by Labor Notes conference attendees.

Marchers took to the street in front of the restaurant, garnering a high honk rate from passing cars.

Naomi Debebe explains why she and other restaurant workers have been targeting Andiamo, and why they'll keep the pickets up as long as it takes.

Jose Oliva building people power to take down the wicked, greedy bosses at Andiamo restaurant.

Captain ROC gets some back up from Mother Jones, Cesar Chavez, and hundreds of supporters in front of Andiamo.

April 09, 2010

DC Teachers to Vote on Privately Funded Merit Pay Plan

After nearly three years without a contract, Washington Teachers Union President George Parker and DC Schools Chief Michelle Rhee announced a tentative agreement this week. Flanked by Mayor Adrian Fenty and AFT President Randi Weingarten, the two lined up behind a privately-funded agreement that would institute merit pay while continuing to whittle away at teacher job security.

The agreement is sure to receive scrutiny from teachers and city council. The council’s financial officer has yet to approve the newfangled funding mechanism, which draws on foundation money. The timing of the deal, and the teacher ratification vote, comes not a moment too soon for Parker, who hopes to seal an agreement before facing current Vice President Nathan Saunders—an outspoken critic of both Rhee and Parker —in May’s union election.

Rhee was appointed by Fenty in 2007, and got to work pushing her “sweeping” reform: to give unprecedented, privately-funded merit pay awards to teachers who were willing to give up their job protections for a year. The hype died down when the contours of Rhee’s "red and green" plan came out in summer 2008. Parker and Rhee convened meetings with teachers, hoping for a quick approval—but WTU members looked a little deeper, and didn’t like what they saw.

Contract talks stalled, but Rhee’s slash-and-burn agenda didn’t. She resurrected an obscure district law to put hundreds of teachers (including outspoken critics) on 90-day evaluation plans, which led to an untold number of terminations. Last fall, she used the district’s emergency powers to pursue a “reduction in force.” She fired 266 more teachers in a move that drew the ire of students—who walked out of several schools in protest—and a rebuke from City Council President Vincent Gray, who brought her before the council to explain the firings.

Gray has become a more vocal critic of Rhee as he launches a challenge to her ally Fenty in this year’s mayoral race. On the national scene, Rhee gets only good press and is still championed as a fearless reformer by Obama and the corporate education reform punditry. But closer to home, among the teachers who must vote the proposal up or down, Rhee’s heavy-handed treatment puts the tentative agreement on shaky ground.


After swapping counterproposals and bringing in former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke as mediator, Rhee and Parker’s newest iteration is not quite as “bold” as the schools chief had once hoped. But it still contains the same essence of her initial proposal.

There’s merit pay, but teachers won’t have to give up tenure, as such, to receive it. They will, however, be evaluated in order qualify for the merit pay program, on criteria that the tentative deal leaves for further negotiation. Teachers on the merit pay plan that face a job loss due to school program cuts or closings, would relinquish hiring options available to those who opt out of the merit pay program.

Non-merit pay teachers who lose their position are given choices if they can’t immediately find a new placement: a $25,000 buyout, early retirement (for teachers with 20 years of service), or another year to find work—before facing separation. But, importantly, teachers with low “performance” evaluations wouldn’t be afforded these options.

The actual decision to hire a teacher at a particular school would depend on a principal’s consent. And in making the placements, principals would now prioritize teacher "performance," as determined by Rhee’s new evaluation system, over years of experience. WTU President Parker touts a side agreement that would form a working group to review details of the evaluation system—which by law, teachers can’t negotiate over. Teachers haven’t yet had access to those side agreements before the vote.

Across-the-board raises of 20 percent over five years (retroactive to 2007) and the merit pay system are to be funded to the tune of $65 million in private money from the anti-union Walton and Broad Foundations—and others. The unprecedented move to let private donors underwrite merit pay is Rhee’s attempt to show that D.C. schools are serious about upping test scores and tying teacher evaluations to them—a key criterion for winning federal money in the Race to the Top competition.

Rhee is a good investment for the foundations’ corporate-style overhaul of education, which seeks to bust the unions, dismantle schools, and turn them over to private charter operators. And this deal could protect her job. Council President Gray’s mayoral bid is also a challenge to Rhee’s education plans. But all indications are that the foundation money would leave with her, forcing the new mayor to scramble to meet the financial obligations set up by this week’s deal—or concede that private forces will call the shots for public schools.

Gray tried not to turn up his nose at the private support, but warned in a public statement that “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” and that the Council will have to determine “what strings are attached” to the grants. Parker and Rhee acknowledge the money is only committed through the life of the contract, after which, they say, teacher pay, merit or otherwise, will rely on public funding again.

Rhee retains a host of “plan b” powers that allow her to fire teachers, cut costs, and punish dissent—though Parker and Weingarten tout new “checks and balances” on her firing power in the would-be contract. Teachers are poring over the full contract, released today, before a ratification vote that will likely be a referendum on May’s union election.

April 03, 2010

Hotel Workers Keep Westin Boycott Going

After six months of rocky contract talks, hotel workers have launched a boycott of the Westin hotel in downtown Providence to protest the company’s deep unilateral wage and benefit cuts, as well as work speedups. The rain-or-shine pickets, on for two weeks now, got going right as the hotel hosted an influx of guests for the NCAA basketball tournament in late March—a big tourist boon for the city.

While hotel workers have teamed up with Rhode Island Jobs with Justice and area unions, the boycott call is reaching out-of-towners too. Dozens of members of IATSE, AFTRA, and Teamsters—from the cast and crew filming a pilot for ABC—moved out of the Westin last week.

The boycott is the latest attempt to fight off a wave of attacks from the Westin's managing Procaccianti Group: threats to replace workers with subcontracted labor (a la the "Hyatt 100" in Boston) and retaliatory firings of worker activists. The last straw came in March when the Westin broke off talks, slashed wages by 20 percent, tripled (and in some plans quadrulpled) health care premiums, while cutting sick days and vacation.

The trouble started as soon as the contract talks opened in October. Westin’s subcontracting threats came right on the heels of the fall firings of 100 Hyatt workers at three non-union hotels in Boston. As the “Hyatt 100” launched a boycott in Beantown and joined a citywide “March for Jobs” that brought 1,000 people through the streets of downtown Boston, Providence activists resolved to keep the subcontracting scourge from spreading.

They rallied City Council support for a "worker retention ordinance." The law requires hotels connected to the publicly-subsidized downtown Convention Center—including the Westin—to retain current employees and pay them prevailing wages and benefits for six months if the company subcontracts work or changes hands completely.

Despite the workers’ victory, the Westin went on the offensive, firing three workers in November for joining informational pickets outside the hotel on their work breaks. The union brought a successful complaint to the NLRB on behalf of the workers, and four months later celebrated their reinstatement—marching behind the three on their first day back to work.

The community is still behind the workers after they voted, 138 to 2, to call a boycott and consider a strike. A large crowd gathered outside the Westin to launch the latest phase of the contract campaign. The news of the company’s deep cuts brought out city councilmen, CLC officials, and leaders from AFSCME and the building trades—who all vowed to keep their members out of the Westin until management rescinds the cuts and bargained in good faith.

After a series of rousing speeches from hotel workers and supporters, City Councilman John Lombardi threw his support behind the boycott—even if it meant foregoing his regular trips to the hotel gym, where he’s a member.

Francis Engler, organizer with UNITE HERE Local 217, responded, to cheers: "You can get some exercise walking with us, councilman!"

Westin Hotel workers call for a boycott of the Providence Westin Hotel from RIFuture.org on Vimeo.

Support hotel workers boycotting the Westin.