Women of Arise Chicago speak out against sexual harassment

Women who are members of Arise Chicago, a Chicago workers center, are speaking out against sexual harassment at work.

In a video titled Out of the Shadows, Arise members like Isabel Escobar, an Arise board member and domestic worker leader, tell their stories about being sexually harassed and threatened while on the job.

The video also offers advise about actions women can take to fight back against sexual harassment.

Escobar hopes that when people see Out of the Shadows, they will understand how sexual harassment menaces the livelihoods of women, especially those who work at low-wage jobs.

“We want to let people know that this doesn’t just happen to famous women,” said Escobar. “Abuse is not only committed by famous men in high power positions. Sexual harassment happens every day to low-wage workers, to immigrants, to women of color. And bosses, supervisors feel they have power over our work, our incomes. Therefore, many women are afraid to speak up or are afraid no one will believe us.”

Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress has studied sexual harassment at work and finds that it is especially prevalent in service industries that employ a large number women who work for low wages.

According to Frye, the hospitality/food service and retail industries are the two sectors of the economy with the highest percentages of reported sexual harassment.

“Women—particularly women of color—are more likely to work lower-wage jobs, where power imbalances are often more pronounced and where fears of reprisals or losing their jobs can deter victims from coming forward,” writes Frye.

Women in the hospitality industry also face another source of sexual harassment.

UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago surveyed 500 union members who work in Chicago area hotels and casinos.

The survey found that 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent of casino workers reported that they have been sexually harassed by guests.

Sexual harassment by guests not only makes these workers uncomfortable, it can lead to sexual violence.

In response, Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor succeeded in getting the Chicago City Council to pass the “Hands Off, Pants Up” city ordinance.

The ordinance protects hotel employees from retaliation when they report sexual violence by a guest. It also requires hotels to implement anti-harassment policies and to provide panic buttons to hotel workers who work alone in guest rooms and restrooms.

Workers can press panic buttons when guests act inappropriately toward them.

UNITE HERE has also negotiated a clause in their collective bargaining agreements with hotels around the country that requires the employer to provide workers with panic buttons.

“I feel much safer (because of the panic button),” said Betty Rice, a room attendant in a midtown Manhattan hotel room to WNYC radio.

“Because when you’re frightened, [that] doesn’t always mean you’re going to say ‘I’m on the 14th floor,'” Rice continued. “You’re screaming ‘I need help’. But with the panic button, once you press it, [hotel security] is already alert to where you [are].”

Unfortunately, there’s no panic button that can be pushed to stop unwanted sexual harassment by bosses or co-workers.

But Martina Sanchez, a worker leader of ARISE, sees hope in the fact that many women are coming forward to tell their stories and says that this moment represents a tipping point in the fight against sexual harassment.

“There are thousands of women who remain silent out of a variety of fears–fear of what will be said about them, fear of losing their job, or worst of all, fear they won’t be listened to and nothing will change,” said Sanchez. “But this moment is the beginning of a new struggle.”

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Union questions DHHS secretary nominee about Big Pharma price gouging

Leaders of UNITE HERE had some pointed questions that they wanted Alex Azar to answer when he testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, and Education on November 29.

Azar, a former top executive with Eli Lilly, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations, is President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

His nomination must be approved by the Senate.

The union is skeptical about Azar’s claim that he will support efforts to lower drug prices and wants to know why Azar didn’t do anything to curb Eli Lilly’s insulin price increases while he an executive with the firm.

D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, whose members work in the hospitality, food service, transportation, and other industries, said that during Azar’s tenure with Eli Lilly, the company raised the price of manufactured insulin by 300 percent.

Insulin produced by Eli Lilly is a synthetic hormone that replaces natural insulin produced by the body’s pancreas.

People with type 1 diabetes can’t produce natural insulin and must take daily injections of synthetic insulin to stay alive.

“Insulin is the poster child of what is going wrong in the way that the pharmaceutical industry does business,” said Taylor. “Alex Azar was at the helm (at Eli Lilly) as insulin prices soared.”

Given Azar’s past history, Taylor wanted to know how Azar could be expected to take meaningful steps to halt Big Pharma’s price gouging.

“A central role of DHHS is to deliver quality, affordable health care to all Americans–something that Alex Azar has built his career on blocking,” said Taylor. “Now Azar must answer: How can he reconcile abusing consumers and feeding the insatiable desire for even bigger profits (with his duty to serve the public and consumers at DHHS).”

UNITE HERE led successful efforts in California and Nevada to help contain drug price increases by fighting for new laws that bring transparency to the opaque pricing habits of the pharmaceutical industry.

In Nevada, a coalition of workers and consumers organized by UNITE HERE conducted a grassroots campaign that mobilized people to support passage of a law that requires pharmaceutical companies that manufacture insulin to report and make public the cost of manufacturing and marketing insulin.

The law also requires pharmaceutical company sales representatives to register with the state and report their contacts with health care providers.

The law that passed did not contain everything that UNITE HERE wanted to control insulin price increases, but the union called it “landmark legislation to protect Nevadans . . . living with diabetes from price gouging.”

Big Pharma, including Eli Lilly, vigorously opposed the price transparency bill that became law by mobilizing an army of 70 lobbying firms to oppose it.

Representatives of Eli Lilly testified against the bill, claiming that the company was not at fault for making insulin unaffordable for some people.

UNITE HERE also led a grassroots effort in California that won passage of another drug pricing transparency bill.

The bill, signed by California’s governor in October, requires pharmaceutical companies to notify the state and the public when it plans to raise drug prices by more than 16 percent. Companies must also justify their price increases.

Big Pharma spent $16.8 million in an unsuccessful effort to kill this modest price transparency bill.

In addition to raising doubts about Azar’s sincerity about curbing drug prices, UNITE HERE had questions about Azar’s interest in holding Big Pharma accountable to the public.

Drug research by Big Pharma is generously subsidized by the federal government, and Medicare and Medicaid pay for much if not most of the prescription drugs manufactured by Big Pharma.

“Yet there is zero accountability to the American public on what Big Pharma manufacturers are spending their profits on,” said Mike Casey, chair of UNITE HERE’s Health Care Task Force.

Casey added that Big Pharma justifies its enormous profits by saying that its profits are the reward it receives for the risks it takes to produce innovative medicines.

But “the fact is that twice as much money is dumped into selling and marketing their drugs than is spent on actually innovating,” said Casey.

Casey  wanted to know if Azar “would continue to toe (the) old Eli Lilly line that the money spent by pharmacy manufacturers marketing their drugs is a ‘trade secret’ that the American public has no right to know, despite subsidizing those profits?”

UNITE HERE said that Azar should be disqualified from becoming the new secretary of DHHS unless he can satisfactorily answer these questions and demonstrate that he will put the interests of the public and health care consumers ahead of Big Pharma.

Union to Trump: We’ll fight to protect immigrant workers

Two days before Thanksgiving, hundreds of UNITE HERE members in Florida converged on President Trump’s luxury resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida to protest his administration’s decision to terminate the temporary protected status (TPS) of Haitian immigrants, who fled Haiti after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

Thousands of Haitian immigrants living and working in the US under the TPS program work in the hospitality industry in Florida and the Northeast and are UNITE HERE members.

“DHS and the Trump administration decided to take away the livelihoods of 50,000 Haitians working legally in the US and turn them into targets of deportation,” said Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE explaining why the union was protesting.

The Department of Homeland Security on November 20 announced that it was revoking the temporary protected status of Haitians and that they would have to leave the US by July 2019 or face deportation.

“These TPS holders have lived and worked in this country for nearly a decade and have American-born children and deep roots in their communities,” Durazo said. “The Trump administration and DHS are criminalizing 50,000 legal workers and ripping tens of thousands of dedicated, committed workers from the hospitality industry.”

Durazo added that despite DHS’ decision, UNITE HERE will continue to fight for a solution that allows immigrants covered by TPS to remain in the US and provides them a path toward citizenship.

Congress in 1990 created the TPS program to allow immigrants fleeing from war, political repression, or natural disasters to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

The law allows DHS to designate “a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

DHS regularly reviews the protected status of each country to determine whether to extend it.

Until recently, TPS was routinely extended without much fanfare, but that began to change in September when DHS terminated TPS for immigrants from Sudan.

Six weeks later DHS terminated TPS for people from Nicaragua.

The agency also left people from Honduras in limbo when it temporarily extended their TPS for another six months but added that “it is possible that the TPS designation for Honduras will be terminated at the end of the six-month automatic extension with an appropriate delay.”

DHS will be reviewing the TPS designation for people from El Salvador and Syria in March.

UNITE HERE members for the past several months have been talking directly to members of Congress urging them to find a way to support a solution that would allow TPS recipients to live their lives without the fear of deportation.

That action has paid off. Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware and Rep. Darren Soto of Florida have introduced companion bills called the ASPIRE Act, which would allow people covered by TPS on January 1, 2017 to apply for permanent residency.

People granted permanent residency after a five-year waiting period can apply for US citizenship.

At the demonstration in Florida, Belinda Osorio a union housekeeper who came from Honduras 1991, told the Miami Herald  how DHS’ decision has affected her and her family.

“We are very scared. We don’t know what will happen. I will have to leave in the middle of the night so I won’t get arrested,” said Osorio to the Herald. “After working so many years, and working so hard, they want to tear us apart. We aren’t living off the government. We pay taxes. What we have, we worked for.”

Osorio is married to a US citizen and has two young children born in the US.

Her union has vowed to fight the threat to her and her family.

“We will not allow (President Trump) to quietly destroy 50,000 other families,” said Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami. “UNITE HERE has and always will stand shoulder to shoulder with our immigrant workers.”

Lopsided win for union workers in Las Vegas

In a lopsided vote, 78 percent of the workers at Stations Casino’s Green Valley Ranch in the suburbs of Las Vegas voted to join the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and the Bartenders Union Local 165, both are affiliates of UNITE HERE.

The large margin of victory is notable, said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the status of the labor movement.

The union victory, said Taylor, “proves that the media narrative that labor is dying is untrue, but that working people can win against all odds when they organize together.”

The union win is the third recent victory for pro-union workers at Stations Casino properties in the Las Vegas area.

Taylor also said that the union victory at Green Valley Ranch was notable because it took place in a so-called right-to-work state where the state “rigs the laws against workers to take away their power.”

The roots of the Green Valley Ranch victory can be traced back to 2010 when hundreds Stations Casino workers from all over Las Vegas came together to form a union organizing committee.

Stations Casino is owned by Red Rock Resorts, a publicly traded company controlled by Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta.

The Fertitta brothers took exception with their workers’ desire for a voice on the job and fought the organizing drive every step of the way.

Among other things, they ran television ads in 2012 warning workers not to join the union.

They also hired a union avoidance company, which conducted an ongoing anti-union campaign at work.

But union supporters fought back with their own spirited campaign, and in September 2016 workers at Boulder Station, a hotel and casino located about 11 miles east of the famous Las Vegas Strip, voted to join UNITE HERE by a vote of 355 to 177.

Desperate to stave off further union victories at their properties, the Fertitta brothers announced that they would lower health insurance premiums for all of Stations non-union workers; however union workers, they said, would continue to pay the same higher premiums.

Two months later when another union vote took place at Palace Station, another Station hotel and casino located a few miles away from the Strip, the union narrowly lost by four votes.

UNITE HERE blamed the loss on Stations’ decision to punish its newly unionized Boulder workers with higher health care premiumS and filed charges with National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB ruled that Stations acted illegally by punishing workers for their pro-union vote, and in March reached an agreement with the company requiring it to recognize the union at both its Boulder and Palace properties.

The next union vote at a Stations’ property took place on November 8 and 9 at Green Valley Ranch, a luxury boutique casino resort located in Henderson, Nevada about 16  miles southeast of Las Vegas.

The union won by a vote of 564 to 166.

Workers at Green Valley Ranch said that they voted for the union because they wanted the same wages and union benefits as workers at union hotels and casinos on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas.

“We voted ‘YES’ to join the Culinary Union because we deserve fair wages and good benefits,” said Gladis Sosa de Funes, a guest room attendant at Green Valley Ranch. “Everyone knows the Culinary Health Plan is the best health insurance in Las Vegas, and we want our families to have it.”

Michael Wagner, a bartender at Green Valley Ranch since 2001, said that the organizing campaign to win a union was long and hard but it was worth it.

“I’m happy to have been able to help organize my coworkers and I felt so proud to vote ‘YES’ for the union!” said Wagner. “I look forward to joining together with other Station Casinos workers in negotiations with the company so we can have a fair union contract soon.”

The win at Green Valley Ranch leaves seven other Stations’ properties in the Las Vegas area that are still non-union: Red Rock Resort, Palms Casino Resort, Santa Fe Station, Sunset Stations, Texas Stations, Fiesta Henderson, and Fiesta Station.

Local 226 has informed the public that there is still a labor dispute at these properties and urges people coming to Las Vegas for a vacation to patronize hotels and casinos listed at fairhotel.org.

Unions denounce TPS decision/recommendations

Two unions criticized decisions by the US government that threaten to overturn the lives of tens of thousands of immigrant workers who had been granted temporary protected status (TPS).

On Friday, November 3, the US State Department recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) end TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua.

On Monday, November 6, DHS ended TPS to 5300 people from Nicaragua and postponed a final decision on the fate of 86,000 Hondurans, leaving them in a kind of legal limbo.

Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE, whose membership includes thousands of TPS recipients, many of whom work in the hospitality industry, called DHS’ decision “inhumane.”

Rocio Sáenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the State Department’s recommendation was a result of “the anti-immigrant animus that has now infected the Trump Administration top to bottom.”

For decades, the US government has granted temporary protected status to people fleeing violence, political repression, or the aftermath of natural disasters in their home countries.

The US has designated 12 countries whose immigrants are eligible for TPS: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan (whose TPS status terminates November 2018), Syria, and Yemen.

Currently there are about 435,000 people living in the US who have been granted TPS.

Granting TPS to immigrants means that they can live and work in the US without fear of deportation, and many TPS immigrants have done so for decades.

The US government regularly determines whether to extend TPS status to each designated country. Until recently, TPS extensions have been routine.

But on November 6, DHS decided to end Nicaragua’s TPS designation and gave Nicaraguan TPS recipients until January 2019 to leave the US.

DHS temporarily extended TPS for people from Honduras to July 2018, but according to Reuters, the agency said their TPS “could then be terminated,” leaving 86,000 people from Honduras with an uncertain future.

UNITE HERE said that DHS’ decision on Nicaragua and Honduras “could have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of families and the US economy.”

“TPS recipients, like the thousands that our union represent, are dedicated and longtime employees, many of whom have been at their jobs for decades,” said Durazo.

“Because of the astounding cruelty and foolhardiness of Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security, . . . tens of thousands of lives could be ruined with this TPS termination,” continued Durazo, architect of the union’s national immigration campaign. “Ending TPS for Nicaraguan recipients or any others will forcibly tear apart American families, taking TPS recipients who have lived in the US for over twenty years from their American-born children, from their jobs, and from their homes.”

Sáenz said that the State Department’s recommendation to end TPS for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua has to be seen as a reflection of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant ideology

“Given the conditions in the affected countries, the State Department recommendation can only be understood in the context of politicization and anti-immigrant animus that has now infected the Trump administration top to bottom,” said Sáenz. “The TPS recipients whose future is at stake are long-term residents who have been living and working here legally for many years, working in stable jobs, paying taxes, supporting families, and otherwise contributing to their communities. They have more than 270,000 US citizen children and thousands of US citizen grandchildren.”

UNITE HERE said that people who fear that their lives could be turned upside down, should not give up hope.

The union said that it is planning a national political campaign to get Congress to protect the TPS status of people.

“The onus falls now on Congress to take action to save TPS to protect Nicaraguan recipients as well as recipients from Honduras, Haiti, and seven other countries,” said the union.

“UNITE HERE has run one of the most high-profile TPS campaigns in the immigration community over the past year,” stated the union. . . “And we will not end that work now. We will continue advocating for TPS extensions for Nicaragua and comprehensive pathways to citizenship for all immigrants in the upcoming budget fight and beyond.”

UNITE HERE mobilizes members for justice at work and beyond

UNITE HERE on October 19 launched a coordinated mobilization of its member in the hospitality and associated industries in more than 40 cities across the US.

UNITE HERE’s national day of action included strikes, acts of non-violent civil disobedience, rallies, and media conferences.

The union, which has 270,000 members many of whom are immigrants, mobilized its members to protest “the attack on immigrants, women, and all workers,” said the union it its media statement about the mobilization.

“We are in a political age where immigrants, women, and all workers are under constant attack, and equality for all is at risk of being no more than just a dream,” said D. Taylor,  UNITE HERE’s president.

The solution, continued Taylor, is build real political power that can defeat the constant attacks against races and religions that have become all too common today and hold the world’s richest corporations accountable.

Taylor praised UNITE HERE’s hospitality workers for leading the fight for better labor standards for all workers and better protections for immigrant workers and said that the national day of action was “only the beginning of what UNITE HERE will do to take back our country.”

Here’s a sample of the union’s actions.

In Philadelphia, UNITE HERE Local 274 members held Marriott International and its subsidiary Starwood Hotels and Resorts accountable for not delivering the jobs they promised in return for millions of dollars in public subsidies.

Marriott and Starwood own a new luxury hotel in the heart of Philadelphia called Aloft. The owners received $33 million in public subsidies to help build the hotel. Included in those subsidies was $2 million from the state of Pennsylvania in exchange for creating 170 new jobs.

When the hotel opened in August, most of those jobs failed to materialize.

Local 274 members converged on Aloft and occupied its lobby to demand that Marriott and Starwood return the subsidy to the state.

“It’s bad enough that we all have to suffer under Trump’s terrible policies and broken promises,” said Corean Holloway, a UNITE HERE member taking part in the action. “Philadelphia shouldn’t also have to suffer hotel developers who take our money and break their promises.”

A dozen members and supporters staged a non-violent sit-in in the hotel’s lobby and were arrested.

In New Orleans, members of UNITE HERE Local 2262 rallied near the city’s convention center to urge other hospitality workers in the city to join the union.

“When hospitality jobs are unionized, they become middle-class jobs,” said Marlene Patrick-Cooper, UNITE HERE organizing director, at the rally. “It’s the best answer for fighting poverty in the United States.”

Recently, 500 workers at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel voted to join UNITE HERE.

They joined because they wanted the higher pay and better benefits that union hotel workers in the New Orleans area receive.

UNITE HERE is urging other non-union hotel workers to do the same and has formed the New Orleans Hospitality Workers Committee to help them unionize.

In Washington DC on the day before the national day of action, UNITE HERE held a media conference to announce the start of a national campaign to preserve the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of immigrants who have come to the US to escape dangerous conditions in their countries.

TPS gives these immigrants a chance to work while they wait for the US government to rule on their request to live and work in the US.

The Department of Homeland Security is expected to decide in November whether to extend TPS to workers who have come to the US from Central America.

If TPS is not extended, workers like Juan Hernandez Yanez, a UNITE HERE cafeteria worker from El Salvador, could lose their union jobs and health insurance benefits.

“If TPS is ended for Honduras, Nicaragua, or any of the other countries up for renewal in the coming months, our industry will lose tens of thousands of dedicated long-time workers–who will in turn lose their livelihoods and their families,” said Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE’s general vice president. “People like Juan pay taxes, play by the rules, and have built lives here in the US.”

In Hawaii, members of UNITE HERE Local 5 conducted a one-day strike at the Ilikai hotel to demand a new contract that reflects the same pay and labor standards at other unionized hotels in Hawaii.

Local 5 has been negotiating a new contract with the hotel’s owners, but the negotiations have dragged on for two years.

The Ilikai workers walked off the job to demonstrate their determination to win a new contract that substantially raises pay and benefits.

“We will never stop fighting for the dignity of the women and men at the Ilikai,” says Joli Tokusato, an Ilikai front desk clerk. “iStar and Aqua-Aston (the hotel’s owners) need to do the right thing for Hawaii’s working families and settle a fair contract.”

The Ilikai workers were joined by hundreds of other Local 5 members on the picket line during the strike.

According to Local 5, “management reached out to us in the middle of the action to talk about a pathway to settlement. This is a huge victory and a lesson we need to take with us into 2018: when workers are strong and united, it sends the message loud and clear to our employers.”

Boston food service workers win standard setting pay increase

Food service workers at Northeastern University in Boston voted on October 10 to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement that will raise their annual wage to at least $35,000 by 2019.

The new agreement is the second collective bargaining agreement that the workers’ union UNITE HERE Local 26 has negotiated that establishes a minimum annual salary of $35,000 for university food service workers in the Boston area.

The agreements also provide for improved health care and pension benefits and should serve as a new standard for collective bargaining agreements that unions in the area negotiate for service workers.

At Northeastern, members of Local 26 had voted to strike unless their new collective bargaining agreement included a substantial pay increase.

They needed a big pay raise because their pay was so low that some of the workers were receiving public assistance.

They reasoned that their employer Chartwells, which operates university dining halls all over the US and is owned by the international food service conglomerate Compass Group, shouldn’t be paying poverty wages.

Their vote to strike was inspired by the success of Harvard food service workers who won a minimum annual salary of $35,000 a year ago as a result of a 22-day strike.

The Chartwells workers were prepared to begin their strike on October 11, two days before Northeastern was to host the annual meeting of the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU).

According to the Clinton Foundation, CGIU meetings bring together “students, university representatives, top experts, and celebrities . . . to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges” including among other things “the alleviation of poverty.”

Had the strike taken place, Bill and Chelsea Clinton and others attending the meeting to discuss innovative strategies for alleviating poverty would have had to decide whether to cross the workers’ picket line to attend the meeting or to honor the picket line in order to stand in solidarity with workers fighting to alleviate their own poverty.

The union and Chartwells, however, reached an agreement just a few hours before the strike was to begin.

The new agreement includes a total wage increase of $5.56 an hour over five years for all workers. By 2019 all full-time workers will be making at least $35,000 a year.

In addition, the company will pay 97 percent of the workers’ health care costs and will begin contributing to UNITE HERE’s pension fund so that workers can start accruing retirement benefits.

The new contract also includes protections for immigrants, more sick days, better non-discrimination language in the contract that includes protections for gender identity and expression, additional sick days, and language that protects workers from lost wages when the state declares snow day emergencies.

“I am so proud of what we accomplished,” said Angela Bello, a Northeastern food service worker and member of the Local 26 bargaining team. “It’s amazing to feel the power that workers have when we get together and are well organized. The ways this contract will impact our lives is almost hard to believe. Thank you to everyone who supported us and believed in us.”

Brian Lang, president of Local 26, said that the new collective bargaining agreement at Northeastern will serve as the standard in the union’s next round of bargaining for service workers in the Boston area.

“Our union fights so that our members can have their fair share of the wealth they create. Last year that meant we struck Harvard University for 22 days. This week we threatened to do the same at Northeastern. Next on the list are the 34 Boston hotels where contracts expire in 2018.” said Lang.