Local unions deserve respect for the rights they work to protect
By Tom Cicero
Everyone can remember what it was like to work their first part-time job. For most people, that job wasn’t particularly a good experience. Maybe it consisted of flipping burgers or bagging groceries, but it was, in most cases, a means to an end. It was a job to make some extra cash and get experience in order to move on to bigger and better things.
What if that job was your only choice, though?
For many people, these are the jobs they are stuck with. For a variety reasons, they have to work in these positions just to get by and to support their families.
As college students, we have options. Unfortunately, some people do not.
They have to either work in poor conditions, in poor paying jobs, or they don’t work at all. That is where unions come in.
For those who don’t know, unions are basically representatives of workers in various industries. Unions are separate from the companies that hire workers (unless you are hired by a union), and require the company to agree to being a part of the union. Unions help workers be able to gain better working conditions, better wages, and help with conflicts between management and workers.
Without unions, companies can overwork their workers and pay them low wages. Companies don’t have to make the working conditions safe because they don’t have anyone enforcing laws on them. Workers often feel trapped in these situations, and without a union to help them, they don’t know who to reach out to for help.
Dylan Amlin, Roosevelt University student and former union volunteer, remembered a particularly bad situation when he was working with Unite Here.
“I went to an organized retreat with my union and heard from this woman, heard from her daughter actually,” Amlin said. “Both of her parents worked at a hotel and the way in which it destroyed their family in multiple ways stuck with me. Her parents were physically sick because of the work they did at these hotels. So she basically grew up without parents.”
So why do a lot of companies resist unions?
“Generally speaking, there is some sort of fear of the workers when they are banning together,” said Roosevelt student Alyssa Carabez. “Like them demanding them to have real jobs instead of going to temp agencies. It takes money out of the pocket of people who own these organizations. And who wants to lose money, especially when you’re in the business of making money?”
Carabez volunteers for Unite Here Local 1, a local labor union that represents hospitality workers.
Unite Here’s most recent task was trying to get Hyatt hotels around America to re-sign their union contracts. Without the signed contracts, workers were not covered for injuries, and benefits were not fulfilled.
A trick that Hyatt and other companies use to get around paying their workers just wages, is using temp workers in their place. These are workers that aren’t part of the union, and thus don’t have to be compensated as real employees.
Things have changed, however, thanks to the union.
“What happened with the Hyatt was our contract expired and they would not negotiate with us to sign a new one, and we went on a global boycott for four years that ended this May,” Carabez said. “Workers will now be making double what they were making before. Now instead of temp workers they have new full-time jobs put in place.”
When we stay at places such as the Hyatt, we never really think about the working conditions of the people there. Not because we don’t care, but because it just doesn’t occur to us.
A lot of work goes into making sure the rooms we stay in are clean and up to code, however. One situation I encountered during my time with Unite Here, had to do with a small immigrant woman who was cleaning the bathroom of one of the hotel rooms. She had to clean the ceiling, and the only way to do this was to throw bleach at the ceiling. In a bathroom with limited to no ventilation, bleach inhalation can be very dangerous to the lungs.
The woman said she often felt dizzy while doing this task, and had to take constant breaks. The worst part? She had to do this 15 times a day.
Because of the excessive amount of manual labor, many of these workers are always in between injuries. Without unions, they probably would not be covered for their injuries, and when they return from a leave, if they even take one–most don’t for fear of losing their jobs–they may find that their job is no longer there. Rights like these are what unions fight for.
“I have never thought about what it means to clean hotel rooms for 12 hours a day,” Amlin said. “Understanding that if you do that type of work you can really hurt yourself. We are fighting for what you think should be basic protection.”
Unions work day in and day out to ensure that workers are safe, healthy and happy.
If companies could only see that happy workers means more productivity, perhaps they would be more akin to supporting unions instead of going against them.
“Those in power are going to push as far as you can possibly go to maximize profits,” Amlin said. “Unless we organize, unless union members can come together and build what they do have, which is people power, it’s just going to continue to get worse.”