Yearlykos and the reason for this blog  

I went to Yearlykos the first weekend of June and was disappointed in how the progressive blogosphere treats labor issues. It seems that if there are no stories coupled with specific statistics, things just go unnoticed. Or is it that the progressive blogosphere just isn't in it with us.

So, this site is going to start out as a women in unions story telling site.

I'm opening with Maria Perla.

Maria is a hotel housekeeper at an Embassy Suites in San Rafael, California. Perla, a mother of 3, cleans 18 suites by herself. Each suite has two large rooms. Come on, have you ever stayed at an Embassy Suite? I have. Great beds. Nice rooms and housekeepers who do a great job cleaning the rooms, but at what cost?

“"I clean 18 suites, each with two large rooms, by myself each day"” says Perla. "There'’s a lot of pressure to finish all the work. When I get home, my head feels like it'’s going to explode." ” Injuries, from falls and moving heavy furniture, are common. At one point, seven housekeepers were sent to a clinic in Oakland. Nearly all were found to have injuries caused by their work load, – injuries that should have prevented them from working at all. Since they couldn'’t afford to stop [working], they just worked in pain.

In 2001, organizing began. Yeah! But that's also when management started to pressure staff through all sorts of interesting tactics...
In October, 2000, Embassy Suites staffers met with a representative of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE). As the organizing effort grew, so did company resistance. By the summer of 2001, workers at mandatory meetings were bombarded with anti-union rhetoric [like]: The union [doesn't] decide how much you'’re paid; we do. They can'’t guarantee you anything. They're just a business, – all they want is your money.

Raises as high as $1.00 an hour went out in every department,– management even began providing cappucinos and cookies to the staff! One general manager dropped in on the housekeepers as they worked, telling them "“We'’re a family. We don'’t need outsiders."” Company memos "helpfully" informed workers that "“paid union organizers are no different than any other paid salesperson who may solicit you at home or on the phone, you can ask them to leave you alone."

By November, 2002, though, workers publicly announced their intention to organize a union, and the gloves really came off. Outrageously, 26 employees,– many of whom had been on the job for years -- were notified that they needed to contact the social security administration right away, because there were "“discrepancies"” in the social security numbers they'd provided. If the problem wasn't straightened out in 30 days they could be fired. "This type of threat is especially scary for immigrants,” says Perla. "People are terrified of being deported."”

Ultimately, due to community pressure, the "social security" firings didn't happen, Yippee, however, the damage was already done. Many employees were afraid that they'd be fired if they persisted in their efforts to lower injuries, increase their income to that equal to local other

Everywhere you look, owners and managers are afraid of unions. I'm going to call it fear here, because I believe that union employees and managers can not only co-exist, but can help each other make the companies they work for better in lots of different ways. For hotel workers, by hiring new empolyees, paying more and decreasing the number of rooms to be cleaned from 18 to say 14 would translate into fewer injuries, less lost time and healthier employees. Fewer injuries means more workers on job, able to do the work effectively. Providing better benefits also translates into greater loyalty to the company. Note in the quoted paragraphs above the threat was made to all the workers, even those having been on the job for years, what message does that show to employees about management loyalty to them?

Unions and management don't have to be adversaries. They can work together to better peoples lives and also the businesses they both work.

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