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Waiting on the Wealth Hoarders

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Posted on Feb 15, 2012
AP / Mark J. Terrill

Hotel workers picket in front of the Hyatt’s Andaz in West Hollywood, Calif., last September.

By Jim Lair Beard

I’ve never been proficient with a musical instrument, but I’ve discovered that I am a near genius when it comes to turning a bullhorn on people who are entering a boycotted hotel.  A few months back, Isaac Gomez, an organizer for UNITE HERE, Local 11, asked me to participate in a two-hour picket line at the Hyatt Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood, where I work as a waiter in the RH restaurant.

The bullhorn is a magical device that gets lots of attention from hotel guests, managers and sometimes police officers. I felt like Eric Clapton when his hands first touched a guitar. We were meant to be.

I’ve used the bullhorn a few times since that day. It’s always an interesting experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a general strike or a meager two-hour picket that employees can participate in during meal breaks.

I once shamed a couple on the sidewalk for going into the Hyatt Andaz only to realize I was almost late for work. I quickly changed into my uniform, got onto the restaurant floor and discovered that the irate couple was my first table of the evening.  The manager shook his head and laughed at me. He’d been watching my amplified protests against customers all afternoon through the window.

“You know you did this to yourself, right?” He nodded toward the angry guests.

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When I greeted the table, the red-faced man did a double take. His wife’s mouth fell open. She watched me like I was a rabid dog ready to bite. 

I did my job perfectly. I smiled. I went into the details of each special dish. I suggested great spots to visit while they were in West Hollywood. I asked them about themselves. Where were they from? How long were they staying? Did they have kids?

After dessert they left me a 20 percent tip and scratched their heads on the way out. I proudly brought the check over to my manager.

“You know, you should nominate me for employee of the month for turning around such an awkward situation.”

He frowned and walked away.

The Hyatt Andaz hotel has been stalled in contract negotiations with my union for almost three years. Hyatt refuses to pay workers what they’re worth. In my department alone, each employee works three or four jobs with no extra pay. In a single shift I am a waiter, a busser, a food runner, a host and sometimes a bartender. I’m afraid one day I’ll discover that I’m the manager with no comprehension of how I got the title.

Frankly, I’m tired of being taken advantage of by Hyatt. When its CEO makes more than $6 million a year and I see the rest of us struggling day by day just to pay the rent, it irks me.

Workers across the country know this is a bigger problem than one hotel chain, but Hyatt’s owners, the Pritzker family, aren’t small players. They’re billionaires. Last September, Forbes magazine listed the 400 richest Americans, and 11 of them were Pritzkers.  Forget the top 1 percent, they are in the top .01 percent. They are living, breathing examples of why trickle-down economics is a naïve and dangerous idea. We’re letting diagnosable hoarders of wealth control our very lives.

If I didn’t feel so personally affected, I’d feel sorry for the super wealthy in this country. I think they have a disease. I don’t see much of a difference between alcoholics stashing booze around the house and hoarders of wealth hiding their funds in offshore bank accounts. They need every dime, untaxed.

In a diary for the Daily Kos, a writer who goes by the pseudonym MinistryOfTruth lashed out at Republican front-runner Mitt Romney for just this kind activity. “If you hide money you took out of the American economy overseas you are not a patriot.” The author wrote this after Romney released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, revealing not only that he is taxed at a lower rate than many middle-class Americans, but he buried piles of his wealth in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.

I’ll echo that sentiment. Mitt Romney is not a patriot, and neither are wealthy barons who cut costs by making their employees work three or four jobs at a time while building more and more hotels overseas. You are not a patriot if you prize profits over people. You are a hoarder of wealth.

Hyatt’s behavior toward my brothers and sisters across the country is just one of the many reasons that I am willing to pick up a bullhorn and risk my job. Last July at the Chicago Park Hyatt, workers picketing under the awning of the building were stunned when a manager turned on heating lamps as a tactic to get them to disperse. It was already one of the hottest days of the summer, but apparently not hot enough for the Hyatt Corp.

More recently, Hyatt threatened to pull its health care for its Chicago employees unless UNITE HERE stopped its national boycott. Essentially, Hyatt was playing a game of chicken with workers’ health care.

I also put a bullhorn in my hand because it works. In a letter dated the 25th of January, Hyatt attorney Mark Whitefield conceded that the corporation would allow the workers’ health care to continue despite the boycott.

“Be advised that Hyatt intends to continue payment of the monthly amounts required by the UNITE HERE Health fund, beyond February 29, 2012, so that Hyatt Chicago employees’ health coverage continues without interruption,” Whitefield’s letter said.

It seems that the Hyatt Corp. also felt the heat and did not want to be known as the company that held workers’ health care for ransom.

While I believe that utilizing a bullhorn is an essential skill for a union activist, I’m also of the opinion that it’s time to teach our members the importance of getting our message out to a broader audience.

I know plenty of elderly union men and women eager to learn about Facebook and Twitter—people whose legs are failing them but their fingertips are not. A few of them taught me how to use the bullhorn this past year. I plan on returning the favor by showing them how to tweet their messages far and wide. Apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


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By hil2, February 22, 2012 at 6:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is spot on. Until employers pay their employees a fair salary, i.e. enough to pay for housing, food, fuel, transportation with enough left over to spend money for goods and services. Until employers have safe work conditions, fair work hours, and prove that they value their employees, this country will never have a real economic recovery. People will save, not spend when they are not earning enough, when they are afraid of losing their jobs or not having enough to pay their bills. There will never be a large strong middle class.  Fair pay is a necessity.  Respect for workers is a necessity. 
Furthermore,  we can have a capitalistic economy as long as we have laws, taxes, and regulations that benefit the working class, middle class citizen.  In our representative democracy, we need public workers (police, military, teachers, fire and rescue); we need government to help build infrastructure, we need banking reform and return to separation between commercial and investment banks, and regulation of commodities speculation. 
Finally, commercial media is doing us a disservice by spinning sensational side issues that distract from the truly serious needs of our citizens and our nation’s economic health.

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By gerard, February 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment

PeopleOVERGreed:
  Pickup up from your quote:
“...capitalism has been blighted with short-termism and an obsession with instant investment results, which had ramped up market volatility, widened the gap between rich and poor and deflected attention from the deepening climate crisis.”

The “short-termism” plays into the “deepening climate crisis” for sure, but doesn’t show why capitalists are the last to pay attention or do anything to prevent the “deepening.”  Why not?

What are they thinking? You aren’t implying, are you, that the climate crisis caused the short-termism? Yet surely the short-termism helps to deepen the climate crisis! Is/was this one of those feedback loops we talk about?

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Alan Lunn's avatar

By Alan Lunn, February 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment

In 2008, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman-Sachs famously
said, “We’re doing God’s work.”

What was unspoken there is that they operate under
the cover of a 708 trillion dollar swaps market by
which Greece was ransacked. Perhaps they are in a
panic themselves, afraid the world economy will burst
at the seams and they must have a rainy day piggy
bank to see them through.

As servants of God, they apparently did not read this
in the Bible. James 5

Warning to the Rich

1You rich people should cry and weep! Terrible
things are going to happen to you. 2Your treasures
have already rotted, and moths have eaten your
clothes. 3Your money has rusted, and the rust will be
evidence against you, as it burns your body like
fire. Yet you keep on storing up wealth in these last
days. 4You refused to pay the people who worked in
your fields, and now their unpaid wages are shouting
out against you. The Lord All-Powerful has surely
heard the cries of the workers who harvested your
crops.
  5While here on earth, you have thought only of
filling your own stomachs and having a good time. But
now you are like fat cattle on their way to be
butchered. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent
people, who couldn’t even fight back.

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By PeopleOVERgreed, February 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

The free market as many will say is self correcting. This implies the market will follow the money. Which also implies that investment consumers must take action and put their money where their mouths are to send a message to Wall Street and companies alike. One way is to invest your money or part of it in what you believe. Here is an example of how your money can be your mouth piece:


http://news.yahoo.com/al-gore-takes-aim-unsustainable-capitalism-164819308.html


LONDON (Reuters) - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore wants to end the default practice of quarterly earnings guidance and explore issuing loyalty-driven securities as part of an overhaul of capitalism which he says has turned many of the world’s largest economies into hotbeds of irresponsible short-term investment.

Together with David Blood, senior partner of ‘green’ fund firm Generation Investment Management, the environmental activist has crafted a blueprint for “sustainable capitalism” he wants the financial industry to adopt to support lasting economic growth.

“While we believe that capitalism is fundamentally superior to any other system for organizing economic activity, it is also clear that some of the ways in which it is now practiced do not incorporate sufficient regard for its impact on people, society and the planet,” Gore said.

At a briefing ahead of Thursday’s launch, David Blood said capitalism has been blighted with short-termism and an obsession with instant investment results, which had ramped up market volatility, widened the gap between rich and poor and deflected attention from the deepening climate crisis.

The former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management put forward five key actions which he hoped would revive the discussion on how to clean up capitalism and put companies, investors and stakeholders on the path towards long-term, sustainable profit.

These include ending quarterly earnings guidance from companies, which the authors said incentivized executives and investors to base decisions on short-term factors at the expense of longer-term objectives.

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By Leefeller, February 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment

allen, I doubt most not all employers have a source of embarrassment, simply because they are most likely Republicans, shame and embarrassment are not options in their tables of life!

Even when workers collectively call employers on potential abuses, employers reluctantly screaming and fighting accept anything without a drama and the underlying chance to get rid of the unions. Again this is not true of all employers, but I would safely say a majority, just look at the Employer associations like ALEC, Koch Brothers, Chamber of Commerce, which lobby tooth and nail for right to work states as a case in point.

I doubt embarrassing opportunists is a possibility!

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By gerard, February 16, 2012 at 10:48 am Link to this comment

It is amazing that an economic system such as capitalism, persistently greedy and out of control, can exist in a country that thinks of itself as “Christian.”  And people who run such a sytem year after year can call themselves “Christians.”
Pile on top of that the fact that this “Christian” country survives economically on manufacturing armaments (including nuclear weapons), sells them to others and itself promotes successive wars in order to exploit and sell energy sources that pollute the entire planet.  Give us a break, you “Christians.”
We know you can do better once you stop to think about it. (Not that you are the only destroyers, but somehow the world expected more from you.)

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By LostHills, February 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm Link to this comment

Money hoarding is a disease and we should encourage our infected brothers and
sisters to seek treatment. God help them…...

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By gerard, February 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm Link to this comment

My guess is that “monkeymind” needs a name-change to free him/her from the cage of imitation and to encourage him/her to take a few steps along more creative paths toward the future. Throughout the world, the “common” people are trying to find “uncommon”—less deadly—ways to bring about social justice. The old “blood and guts” ideas are gradually proving counterproductive because violence is inevitably followed by more violence later.

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By Marian Griffith, February 15, 2012 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Trickle down economics is more like the niagara falls. A torrent of water falling down in a lake that already contains too much of it, and then claiming that those at the top of the falls are getting wet too from the mist.

At least the new crop of oligarchs in the USA seem intent to proof Karl Marx right once and for all: The natural tendency of a capitalist system is for the workers to get poorer and the owners to get richer. Marx even correctly predicted that the system will (violently) collapse when too few workers can afford the products they buy.
Why churn out half a million cars or televisions each year when everybody who can afford one already has one, and the rest of the world is only trying to subsist as virtual slave?

What prevented the communist revolutions these past 80 years is not the might of the American army, but the social democracies in Europe and Northern America, which created a middle class that had enough wealth to keep the factories running and to make the idea of communism a lot less appealing.
But if you shops full of goods you can not afford and you can see no change in your future to being able barely meet ends on only the most basic of levels ... then the promise of revolution is a lot more appealing.

Not that communism, or just about any revolution, ever brought people much joy, but at some point the feeling that ‘enough is enough’ takes over from rational thought.

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By monkeymind, February 15, 2012 at 11:30 am Link to this comment

is this article representative of what protest has become in america? if so then i pray tonight for the people lost in long ago fights against hegemony, corporate, state, religious; pray equally for those fighting - right now - in egypt, on my street in nepal, in athens, in the maldives, on the waterfront of new zealand. your souls seem to be antidotes for the ‘not willing to take a stand’ crew that camps, assembles ‘generally’, twits, tweets, facebooks (on 2 + year ATT contract with the data package)furthering the barons cause with each key stroke, before dawning uniform and doing the duty of the slave unwilling to do more than moan. where is this movement’s john brown? who will draw an uncrossable, formative line?

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By felicity, February 15, 2012 at 11:25 am Link to this comment

This article is a clarion call for all of us never to
‘darken’ the door of a Hyatt owned anything. 

Years ago we protested in front of a hotel which was
hosting a world-wide convention of arms-dealers.  A
year later the same hotel was asked again to host the
convention but this time declined saying that the ‘bad’
publicity the year before (our protest) was the basis
of their decision.  Power-to-the-people is not an empty
phrase.

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By ReadingJones, February 15, 2012 at 10:27 am Link to this comment

I tried to post the following in the wall street cage
liner. A Texas oil millionaire and and rancher once
said, Money is like cowshit, it doesn’t do a damn bit
of good until you spread it around.” It was turned
down for using foul language.  It shows that even a
millionaire sometimes understands basic economics. It
is unfortunate that it is such a tiny percentage.
Also the percentage of the super rich that are truly
nasty predators is only a very, very, tiny fraction
of the 1%. OWS would do well to develop a list of
bastards together with evidence, pictures, and
locations where they prowl. A sort of People Magazine
devoted not to the immoral but to the truly evil.

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By gerard, February 15, 2012 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

But…but… but… this is the first time in human history where a huge number of the world’s ordinary
(and often unpredictably extraordinay) people have had even the slightest idea of what is going on, and that the main problem is vastly unfair distribution of necessities. It’s the first time millions have
been inspired to act together.

Maybe it’s too late.  But maybe not.  Live in the
possibilities because it’s the honorable choice.
Give all you can to life—the one thing the rich
cannot do, apparently—at least not up to now.
Pity the rich. They are the most imprisoned, starved,
uncreative, phoney, mean-spirited people on earth.

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By Mary McCurnin, February 15, 2012 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Big B,
The plutocrats and oligarchs have created a situation
where that cannot happen. If they disappear
underground somewhere and society continues to fall
apart, who is going to monitor all those nuclear
power plants? The answer to that would be nobody. I
wonder if they have thought about this? I think about
it everyday.

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By Big B, February 15, 2012 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

The plutocrats and oligarchs know exactly whats going on. They know the world is heating up (geologicly and socially) and they are making their plans for survival. It may seem paraniod, but I would not be at all surprised to learn that they have built a new promised land below ground or on top of a mountain somewhere where their future generations will be safe from the coming upheaval. Where they can lye in wait for the smoke to clear and the chaos to end, and then they can climb down (or up) and re-assume their hegemony over the survivors.

I used to think we could turn this ship around,but now, no way. Things are going to get really awful before they better (if they ever get better again). While we are learning to plant our own crops and build our own windmills again, it may prove some comfort if we grease our new plows with the blood of the rich (that is if they don’t hire some dolts for their new private armys that get to us first)

I am afraid we may be past a point of no return. There is no amount of bars of “kum-by-ah” that are going to save us now. It’s time to simplify, de-evolve a little, and hope for the best while getting ready for the worst.

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By Leefeller, February 15, 2012 at 7:57 am Link to this comment

As a heart and soul union person, whose long ago labor memories are history, finds those memories quickly resurfacing and becoming an emotional part of existence as I continue to watch the lies, attacks and abuses towards workers rights across the nation escalate. Especially at the state level in the Red States, a corogpahed attack by corporations as people too collectively denying collective bargaining rights to the people doing the labor. 

James Beard’s article is inspiring to me and should be for most labor and workers everywhere, just knowing some people have not been indoctrinated by the relentless snake oil Robber Barron mentality of today. Hoarders of money is an amusing way of describing the filthy rich!

I suspect if they had their way, we would all be working like the quasi slaves in China who assemble Apple Products.

The following comment by Beard is correct, well depending on which side of the spectrum one is on, for the wealthy one percent trickle-down is working just fine, ask the high priced GOP and few Democrat whores in Congress!

‘They are living, breathing examples of why trickle-down economics is a naïve and dangerous idea.

A good article which needs much more discussion.

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By John Poole, February 15, 2012 at 7:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When I hand over some of my income to others for work done I always hope
they’ll not spend it on a lap dancer or buy “imported” dope. The lap dancer I know
won’t declare all of the income and may even spend some on dope so it is doubly
cheating me. Offshore tax havens for the rich aren’t the only means of ripping off
honest taxpayers.

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By allen, February 15, 2012 at 5:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“...Hyatt refuses to pay workers what they’re worth.”

Isn’t the opposite true?  Namely that they ARE paying you precisely what they think you’re worth?

We may agree that they are wrong in that belief, but on the evidence they continue to profit—in both their bottom line and with respect to their corporate planning—from paying you what they do. And, given the unemployment figures we see daily in our newspapers, they have made the calculation—correctly as it turns out—that you can’t do much about your situation with so many possible replacements coming to them every day looking for work.


Whenever discussion turns to American workers and America’s unemployment,it is inevitable that one of the discussion participants will say that the solution to workers’ problems (in getting and keeping work) is more education.  But with so many jobs now situated in the service sector, what sort of education is called for?  Men and women in their fifties (or older) may remain perfectly capable of performing any number of jobs successfully, but how do they choose their reeducation studies in a manner best calculated to maximize their chances for (re)employment?  And, a not insignificant point, where do they get the money to pay for that education, given their already stagnant wages and the current costs of enrolling in even the lowliest community college?

Though she won’t offer you any solace on the matter, take a look a Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed.  She took a succession of jobs in the service industry, and what she learned should be a source of embarrassment and shame for all employers who don’t pay their staffs a decent wage.

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