Friday, February 24, 2006

Race, Hotels, and Crap

Picket Fences: From Dream to Fantasy
Hotel workers seek to beat poverty
LA Weekly

When Ana Mendez’s home was built 60 years ago, its serpentine flagstone walkway and sunken living room embodied the middle-class dream for white Los Angeles after World War II. Today, the Lennox house still represents middle-class membership for many immigrant workers — but getting there is a lot harder than it used to be, making home ownership a virtual fantasy for millions of low-income wage earners. Mendez and her family moved into their Felton Street home about a year ago, after living for 20 years in one of the hulking apartment complexes that sit across the street. Houses in Mendez’s crime-plagued neighborhood, three blocks from the San Diego Freeway and about 1,000 feet beneath planes landing at nearby LAX, sell for about $400,000 — nearly four times what they went for a decade ago.

Last week the Mendezes’ living room was crowded with employees of the big nonunionized airport hotels on Century Boulevard, and they had lots to say about obstacles to the American Dream. They had come, organized by the UNITE HERE union, to share stories of abuse and indifference with actor Danny Glover, who was in town as part of UNITE HERE’s Hotel Workers Rising campaign, a nationwide push to raise working and living standards in one of the few American industries whose work force cannot be offshored.

Glover was in the middle of a long day that wouldn’t end until that evening, when he spoke at a downtown rally in front of the Sheraton Hotel. He and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, along with UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm, had begun the morning by strolling into the LAX Hilton, where they exchanged unauthorized pleasantries with workers in the kitchen, reception desk and lobby areas — as stone-faced security staff looked on. Some workers wore union buttons and embraced Glover. Others were more guarded; one woman told Glover in a low voice that she was very afraid of management but grateful for his support.

After leaving the Hilton, the Lethal Weapon co-star joined former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards for a luncheon at Inglewood’s Forum Club. That event was chaired by embattled County Federation of Labor head Martin Ludlow, four days before he resigned amid an investigation into campaign violations. (City Attorney Delgadillo did not attend.) Union presidents Andy Stern, Bruce Raynor and Maria Elena Durazo were served chicken and rice, as were L.A. Councilman Herb Wesson, Los Angeles Sentinel owner Danny Bakewell and community activist Tony Muhammad.

The largely African-American audience heard from Wilhelm that, according to his union’s statistics, the hotel industry, once an employment haven for blacks, has all but stopped hiring them. They also heard that the average annual wage for a housekeeper is $17,340 when the federally computed poverty line for a family of four is $19,157, and that the medical insurance offered workers by hotel chains is an empty gesture because few can afford it.



Anonymous said...

from Andy Stern. sigh.

"Employers need to recognize that the world has changed and there are people
who would like to help them provide solution in ways that are new, modern
and that add value to companies," claimed Stern. A partnership between labor
and corporations would be a step towards the intended goal.

Then, on the other side of the coin, union members have to understand that
companies are not their enemy, but must think about increasing shareholders'
wealth. Labor must do its part of the equation.

"Labor should ask itself, 'how can I contribute to meeting those
[shareholders'] expectations in a way that also meets mine?'"

P-CRAC said...

Andy is confused these days.

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