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The Price of a Good Night’s Sleep

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Posted on Feb 7, 2012
hotelworkersrising.org

By Scott Tucker

The price of a good night’s sleep should not be low wages and high injury rates among hotel workers. We must keep in mind that a degree of class mobility is compatible with the usual class cruelty. For anyone who does not belong to the very capstone of the American social pyramid, the old slogan of the labor movement is gaining a new and terrible meaning: An injury to one is an injury to all.

That’s why Out and Occupy, a new group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender people inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, will be celebrating an early Valentine’s Day on Feb. 11 with the hotel workers of Hyatt Andaz West Hollywood and with members of the progressive labor union Unite Here. We’ve had enough of a bad romance with corporate serial seducers, and we’re breaking up with “gay friendly” businesses that don’t respect workers of all sexual persuasions. I am not a saint of any kind nor a professional revolutionary. My own case is simpler: I worked in some low wage jobs when I was young, but today I am a middle-class writer who prefers to travel and rest in comfort. But just step outside our doors and what do we find? We are lost in the dark woods of the “free market,” and the wolves do not just happen to be other human beings. No, they happen to be the ruling class. So enough already with the ghastly glamour of “arriving,” always upward and onward, in the same old grand ballroom of grand illusions.

Click here for information about the event described in this column.

I am writing a public appeal for solidarity with the hotel workers of Los Angeles, but you should know where I come from. I do not digress, but I do insist on the personal dimension of any political movement. I come from a family fractured in part by the American class system, but also from a movement of radical social change often dismissed to this day as a “wedge issue” and as “identity politics.” To the Democratic Party I owe nothing, and to the “progressives” who now urge us all to vote by rote for the candidates of their choice I owe my continuing resistance. Barely 12 percent of American workers are now members of labor unions, and the burden of blame does not rest only with the Republican Party. If we measure the evidence in truly historical scales of justice, then career politicians of the Democratic Party also bear a heavy share of responsibility for unleashing the “free market” on working people. Bill Clinton played a leading role in the deregulation of banks and Wall Street. Barack Obama rehired many of the old regime Clintonistas back into his campaign of “hope and change.”

Nearly all hotel housekeepers are women, and the majority are women of color and immigrants. Corporate hotel chains such as Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Marriott have increased both the amount and the pace of work done by housekeepers in recent years, with high rates of injury documented by a team of researchers from four universities and Unite Here in a 2009 article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Among 50 hotel properties of five companies examined in the report, Hyatt housekeepers had the highest overall rate of injuries. Lifting heavy mattresses, scrubbing bathroom floors and clearing trash will take a physical toll on the sturdiest worker. Understaffing and unsafe work conditions add to the dangers and injuries. Housekeepers at some Hyatt hotels clean as many as 30 rooms a day, nearly double the number generally required at hotels with good union contracts.

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Yet the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, with expensive headquarters in Washington, D.C., has repeatedly named Hyatt as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality,” and in the case of the Hyatt hotel chain this tribute means a 100 percent rating on the Corporate Equality Index, an annual survey sponsored by HRC. The LGBT acronym means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and HRC is the wealthiest lobbying group in Washington claiming to champion the civil rights of the LGBT communities.

Contradictions? Certainly. Welcome to the contradictions of class and immigrant labor that run through daily life and the entire economy. Few of us are living lives of isolated virtue, and what would be the point of virtue in isolation? Saving souls belongs in the realm of faith, but economic justice does have an irreducibly moral dimension. When we treat one another only as the means to personal comfort and profit, the hidden injuries of class are openly advertised in our own actions.

Every great movement for social change includes fracture lines of class division and exploitation. The movement for the human rights and social dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and transgendered people is no exception. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index gives the Hyatt Hotel chain a perfect score for domestic partner benefits, health insurance and relocation expenses, and in addition Hyatt has sponsored HyPride, described in a New York Times Business Day Markets report of Dec. 8, 2011, as “an employee-networking group for members and supporters of the LGBT community.”

Yet domestic partner benefits will not be an immediate benefit to a housekeeper of any sexual persuasion who is neither married nor domestically partnered, yet who may suffer serious injuries through daily shifts of heavy lifting, scrubbing and pushing carts through hallways. A housekeeper or a dishwasher crippled by severe carpal tunnel syndrome may well need health insurance, but may not be able to find a safer job. And for many immigrant workers, the notion of relocation expenses may be quite remote—unless they are bumped out of work entirely and are forced to pay to relocate out of their own pockets.

This Corporate Equality Index is measuring a package of benefits of greatest use to employees already placed on the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. Indeed, by calculating quite precisely the cost of such benefits, many companies are able to show the friendly face of “equal opportunity” managers to a chosen spectrum of customers. This is an essential element of “niche marketing” no matter what particular group a business hopes to attract and no matter what the demographic percentage may be. You do not have to be a gay socialist (though I am) to wonder whether the Corporate Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign is an accurate measure of the defense of human rights among workers rather than one more index of corporate inequality. You only have to pay attention to the difference between the values and principles advertised by career politicians and corporations and the actual condition of the working classes in this country and beyond all borders.

Managers are not members of the 1 percent, much less the upper 10th of 1 percent—that stratosphere in which the ruling class truly rules through both wealth and command of armed power. Managers do, however, enforce corporate regulations upon workers below them, as measured by the steep drops in wages, benefits and respect. Even the kindest manager will sometimes have to choose between kindness to a fellow worker and enforcing the corporate-command economy through “the rules of the house.”

In the United States, we have even reached a point where the number of women or African-Americans or gay people, for example, who shatter “glass ceilings” in corporate headquarters is regarded as a key index of social mobility and even of social equality. We end up looking at a thousand fragments of upper management and the upper class, all highly profiled and brightly glittering, without finding in that shattered mirror any fair reflection of the power of class and capital.

 


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By Fullblad, February 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment

In the wealth of nations it’s spelled right out; workers should only be paid enough so that they continue coming to work and procreate enough for a continually adequate supply of future workers. Anymore than that is being overly generous.

Guess we need to re write that one.

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By Ed Romano, February 9, 2012 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

Yes ! Of course. United we stand. Have a seat.

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By Scooter2012, February 9, 2012 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

Truth Dig? While the Spirit of your article is right on you should check your facts-

1. Do you know you are picketing at one of the only Hotels in West Hollywood that is a Union Hotel and operates under the terms of a Union Contract?

2. Do you know that the Andaz West Hollywood operates under a fully negotiated Union Contract, which protects it’s workers and provides for a full living wage and benefits, eventhough the Union will not sign that contract?

3.  Do you know that the reason that the Union will not sign the contract is that the Contract seeks to bind non-union workers at other hotels- without those workers even been giving the choice to either unionize or not?

4.  Do you know that by venting your vitritude at the Andaz West Hollywood you are negatively impacting Union Jobs while you ignore the Hotels that are not union run?

So based on these solid facts, known to me as a member of the UNION, who works at the Andaz West Hollywood- why are you jepordizing my Job because you either have not been told all the facts, or even worse you omit these important items.

I am proud of my Union, however I disagree with their tactics of targeting my Hotel, which runs under the terms and spirit of a Union contract whose terms my Union negotiated.

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By Ed Romano, February 9, 2012 at 8:32 am Link to this comment

I was a blue collar worker for most of my life and belonged to several unions. My experience is that Jay Gould, the robber baron of 150 years ago, was absolutely right when he said….I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half….I wish with all my heart this wasn’t true, but wishing will not make it so.

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By elizabeth allen, February 9, 2012 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is more this story. Russia doesnt want the UN, NATO or any county to take out another soverign nation ala Libya. Russia has accurately described Syria is in a civil war. The Syrian milita groups are being funded and delivered weapons from the US and Israel. Russia calls for both sides to put down their arms and to hold negotiations rather than war. It appears to me Russia has better attitude in dealing with Syria than does the US and Israel.

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By Outraged, February 9, 2012 at 12:02 am Link to this comment

Mr Tucker:

I would like to weigh in and say while I don’t agree 100% with your article. I agree 100%+ with its message.

As far as workers go, an injury to one is an injury to us all. Furthermore, an injury to any of us, as Americans is an injury to us all. Soldier on.

Your article is articulate and moving, but I am in WI and certainly cannot support you physically, just the same I wish you and those who stand with you the best.

Many thoughts of solidarity are with you.

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By Textynn, February 8, 2012 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I get so tired of people being led by the nose by organizations that are given awards for this and that.  These companies that win these things all pay into the outfit that gives the prize, award, etc.  It’s all for PR and people believe it like wide eyed simpletons.  Companies get together all the time and create these awards for something to use for their commercials etc. The same outfit runs under different names and gives out awards in different names.  Wake up.

We are being exploited and taught to accept the unacceptable. We have to all stand in solidarity. Voting is a waste of time.

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By diman, February 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment

I’d hate to piss on your parade Gerard, but the so-called successes of “spirit” in the history of the social movements are so rare that we can safely declare that almost all of the social movements have been nothing but failures.

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By Blueokie, February 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm Link to this comment

Doff of the chapeau to Scott Tucker for his writing and truthdig for including it when I thought I would be coming by to ignore Dionne, and Robinson.  Insightful and well said sir.

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By gerard, February 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

What an articulate, graceful and profoundly moving article!  Thank you for it!

Thanks particularly for parts pointing up the successes of “spirit” in the history of the social movements referred to—and the absolute necessity of each and every individual counted for equal human value and for the irresistable (non-violent) force of the All.  United We Stand.

Occupy reverberates!

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