LSG SkyChefs Rally: “Enough is Enough!”

Bright and early on July 14th, UNITE HERE Local 7 members, volunteers, and interns gathered in front of the office in Baltimore to board a bus headed for New York.

We were taking a trip to support more than 6,000 airline catering workers working in facilities across the country. These workers have been bargaining a contract for a year and half with airline caterer SkyChefs, and Lufthansa is the caterer’s parent company. Our mission: meet up at Lufthansa’s New York headquarters and send a strong, simple message from SkyChefs workers and supporters: “Settle a Contract Now!”

The day before our trip, our members signed banners in preparation for the event. This way, workers in New York and across the nation would know that Local 7 members in Baltimore were with them all the way! We loaded the banners, drums, and bullhorn and began our trip.

Several hours later, we arrived and mingled with our sisters and brothers in the struggle. There were workers from all over the country – hundreds of people were at the rally! We learned about the SkyChefs workers’ fight and were able to share in the victories of our campaigns.

We marched from Islanders Arena chanting as supporters drove by honking in solidarity. As we arrived at the Lufthansa headquarters, forming a line a quarter mile long, Lufthansa executives watched with anxious eyes. Chanting in unison, our presence was felt as passing vehicles cheered us on.

We continued to the park across the street in plain sight of the Lufthansa executives and joined two busloads of SkyChefs workers. We got to hear their stories of the injustices they are facing in their struggle against the bosses. Listening to their speeches, we were reminded that we have so much in common in our respective workplaces.

After the inspirational speeches of SkyChefs workers from all across the nation, we broke into the chant “We’ll Be Back!” and returned to our respective cities to share our New York experience with our own locals. Rallying together with our brothers and sisters across UNITE HERE was such an incredible reminder that their fight is our fight, and we have to keep supporting one another. We arrived in Baltimore with a renewed energy and motivation to continue to organize against the boss.

Victory!

– Summer Organizers, Baltimore

A Chance to Reflect

Crew from Local 217 and Local 26My fellow Summer Organizer Chris and I were so glad to be a part of Local 217’s retreat last weekend. We deeply appreciated the opportunity to reflect on our work and grow closer as a team.
-Jen, Summer Organizer, Providence

Summer Organizer JenJen, Connie Holt, Courtney Smith, Karl Lechow, Chris, Local 26 President Brian Lang


 

The Struggle for Immigrant Rights in Massachusetts

The steps of the Massachusetts State House have once again become the site of a struggle for immigrant rights in the Commonwealth.

One year after the 19-day, 18-night vigil that defeated a set of anti-immigrant amendments to Massachusetts’ FY 2010 budget, the legislature is once again targeting immigrants. And once again, the MassHope 2011 Coalition is taking a stand.

Led by the Student Immigrant Movement and 24 other organizations, including UNITE HERE Local 26, the MassHope Coalition has been keeping a 24/7 vigil on the steps of the State House. Starting 8:00 a.m. on Monday, June 21, 2011 and continuing indefinitely, vigil participants are supplied with donated food, umbrellas, and a firm conviction that these amendments will place an unfair burden on immigrants and citizens alike. The coalition has led lobbying delegations, teach-ins, phone banks, and a press conference to educate the public and the legislature about the dangerous nature of these amendments.

Known as Redraft of Governor’s 122, the amendments target immigrants’ access to education, employment, and social services. One amendment would require all small businesses that contract with the state to use E-Verify, a status verification system that would be costly and redundant, since contractors must check the immigration status of employees before hiring.

As a local that represents over 5,000 immigrant workers, UNITE HERE Local 26 is proud to be a sponsor of the vigil. We sent a delegation to the press conference on Friday, June 24, and have been lobbying the conference committee to reject these hateful amendments. We know that immigrants make up an important part of Boston’s economy and we will continue to stand with our brothers and sisters who were born in other countries and have come here to seek opportunity.

-Karen, Sandra, Nathan, Neal, Cielo, Remeike, and Sam: Boston

Summer Organizers, Workers Seize the Day at Manhattan College

Last Thursday, June 16, 2011,  we had the opportunity to take part in a powerful worker-led action at Manhattan College.

Manhattan College replaced Sodexo with a company called Gourmet Dining to operate its cafeteria. As a result, all of the Sodexo employees were terminated.

Gourmet Dining announced that they would hold a hiring session. However, the opportunity had been announced not just to the incumbent workers, but to the general public!

On the day of the hiring session, we gathered with almost all former employees outside the facility. The employees then walked into the hiring session together, showing a powerful, united presence. We sent a message to Gourmet Dining that they were not dealing with individual workers, but with a strong collective force.

Afterwards, we interviewed workers about their experiences with the hiring process. Former employees re-grouped outside and nearly every person signed a union card, authorizing UNITE HERE Local 100 to represent them in collective bargaining. This was a great success not only for the union, but for the former employees as well. Those who previously worked at the cafeteria at Manhattan College felt empowered and were able to take an active role in protecting their rights and their future.

Being part of the action on Thursday and seeing dozens of workers come together and fight for their rights and their jobs as a united group reminded us of why we want to be a part of this movement. Because it allows the disheartened to hope, it moves the fearful to fight and it will transform the powerlessness of one into the victory of many.

-Yoel and Katherine, Summer Organizers, New York City

Speaking Truth to Power in Providence

On Monday, June 13th, I met Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island). It was my first time meeting a U.S. Senator! After we sat down at the conference table and introductions were made, I was given the opportunity to inform the Senator about the issues.

Here in Rhode Island, we are working with community allies to keep J.P. Morgan Chase from charging unreasonable bankcard fees to Rhode Island’s economically distressed, unemployed and temporarily disabled residents. We are asking the Governor to put the state’s contract with J.P. Morgan Chase out to bid as it expires, and we are asking other elected officials to support the Governor in making this decision.

I don’t get nervous often, but to inform a Senator about what is going on back home?  I was almost shaking. But as I started to hit my stride and make my key points, the Senator started to ask thoughtful questions. I soon realized that he was actively listening to us and was very interested in what we were telling him! At the end of the discussion, we stood up to shake hands and exchange farewells, and I did what any good Summer Organizer would do:

“Senator, can I snag a picture with you? To throw up on my Facebook page?”

Good-naturedly, the Senator smiled and said that he would allow it.

I told my wife and family as soon as I got home that I got a fantastic picture with a U.S. Senator and I felt really proud of what we got accomplished.

Not bad, for a Monday.

-James, Summer Organizer, Providence

UPDATE!

The Providence Journal reported on July 30, 2011 that “Kenneth C. Kirsch, deputy director of the state Department of Administration, says he has met with the union and has told it that the administration will put the debit-card contract out to bid within the next month. The contract with JPMorgan Chase expires Jan. 14, 2012.” Si se puede!

 

UNITE HERE and the Crisis: New York

On Saturday, June 18, 2011, UNITE HERE Local 100 presented a training session about the past, present and future of the labor movement. Staff members, shop stewards from cafeterias represented by the union, summer organizers and volunteers participated in the training.

We began with gaining an understanding of the economic climate of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries – the growing divide between the rich and the poor really stood out.

Local 100 organizers then recounted their experiences of the fight to bring the union to the shops where they themselves had previously been workers! These stories gave insight to the history of Local 100 and its transformations over the past forty years. It was fascinating to hear everyone’s personal story of how they had gotten involved in the union.

To demonstrate the shared struggle of workers in our industries across the country, the training also featured “One Day Longer,” an inspirational film about the Frontier Hotel strike in Las Vegas. It was amazing to see all the different pieces that allowed workers to win that fight.

Ultimately, this training emphasized the crisis of inequality, and the necessity of volunteering in the labor movement. We were inspired, and we believe that the education gained from this workshop will translate into an increased involvement of committed workers and community members in the labor movement.

-Liam, Erika and Jessica: Summer Organizers, New York City