Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jews and Christians for Economic Justice

Yesterday afternoon, workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago went on a 1-day strike. They walked out of work in solidarity with thousands of their co-workers across the country whose livelihoods are threatened by the management's proposed contract. After two years of working without a contract the last major sticking point with management is the fate of the non-unionized workers. 
Last week, I convened a meeting between Hyatt Corp.'s Senior HR Officer, Rob Webb and five clergy, including an Orthodox rabbi and two Methodist ministers. At the meeting at Hyatt's corporate headquarters in downtown Chicago, one of Mr. Webb's complaints was that the labor negotiator in San Franscisco was "holding those Hyatt workers hostage" by not signing a separate deal with management and holding out for better conditions for workers in other cities. I told Mr. Webb that the worker solidarity that he sees as a problem, we, clergy, see as a virtue.
The solidarity of unionized workers with their non-unionized fellow workers is impressive and inspirational. Clearly,  there is self-interest at play here: a bigger union is a stronger union. But, the workers have resisted threats and enticements. They have risked their jobs in order to ensure the long-term viability of their work agreement with management. They refuse to abandon their co-workers, even when that stand costs them.
At the end of our meeting, I thanked Hyatt's Senior Vice President for Human Resources for his time but added that we would continue to campaign on behalf of the workers.

Yesterday afternoon I, along with local and national clergy led a rally with the striking workers and their supporters outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel just off Chicago's Magnificent Mile. At the rally I met clergy leaders from near and far including the impressive labor organizer, Rev. Carol Been of Los Angeles. The national Interfaith Worker Justice conference that is meeting in Chicago this week made the Hyatt Regency a focal point of its activism.

Local clergy were present too. Rabbi Bruce Elder from the Chicago suburbs delivered a powerful prayer on behalf of the striking workers. I was honored to lead the music alongside Kim Bobo, the head of the Interfaith Worker Justice organization.

Rob Webb came out from his office to watch the rally. Apparently, he exchanged a friendly wave with Rabbi Elder. As he told us at our meeting last week, "we have the power to give." It's time to use that power.

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