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Meet Obama's Anti-Labor, Subprime-Lending, Housekeeper-Mistreating Billionaire Nominee for Commerce Secretary

Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman interviews Aaron Mate and David Moberg on his article, "3 Troubling Things To Know About Billionaire Penny Pritzker."
 
 
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The following was originally published by Democracy Now! View the original transcript on the Democracy Now!  website.

Billionaire business tycoon and former Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker appears headed for confirmation as commerce secretary, despite concerns about her business dealings. Pritzker and her family owned Superior Bank, a Chicago-based firm that collapsed after the Pritzkers expanded subprime lending. With net worth of more than $1.5 billion, Pritzker stands to be one of the wealthiest Cabinet secretaries in history. Her family started the Hyatt Hotel chain, which has come under scrutiny for her clashes with labor unions. The AFL-CIO says Hyatt has exhibited a broad pattern of labor abuses, including aggressive outsourcing, low wages and the mistreatment of housekeepers. We’re joined by David Moberg, senior editor of In These Times magazine. His recent article is "3 Troubling Things To Know About Billionaire Penny Pritzker."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Aaron Mate´: We turn now from the Chicago school closings to a former Chicago Board of Education member: the billionaire business tycoon Penny Pritzker. She appears headed for confirmation as commerce secretary. Pritzker’s family started the Hyatt Hotel chain, and she is a close friend of President Obama. In 2008, she served as the national finance chair of his presidential campaign.

At Pritzker’s confirmation hearing Thursday, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota asked her about her ties to Superior Bank, a Chicago-based bank owned by her family. Superior failed after Pritzker and her family expanded subprime lending.

Sen. John Thune: Ultimately, there were a number of the banks, uninsured depositors that had claims that they lost over $100,000 worth of savings, including one who reportedly deposited her entire retirement account with Superior a month before it failed. What do you have to say to those depositors who lost significant sums of money because of this venture?

Penny Pritzker: Well, Senator, I regret the failure of Superior Bank. It’s a—it was not an outcome or a situation that I’m—you know, I feel very badly about that.

Aaron Mate´: If confirmed, Penny Pritzker, with a net worth of over $1.5 billion, would be by far the wealthiest member of the current Cabinet and one of the wealthiest Cabinet secretaries in history. Bloomberg News reported Pritzker recently inadvertently understated a portion of her income by at least $80 million in a form required for her nomination. Last year, she received over $53 million in consulting fees from her family’s offshore trust in the Bahamas.

Amy Goodman: As an heir of the Hyatt Hotel chain and former head of the Chicago Board of Education, Pritzker has also come under scrutiny for her clashes with labor unions. According to the AFL-CIO, the Hyatt has exhibited a broad pattern of labor abuses, including aggressive outsourcing, low wages and the mistreatment of housekeepers. Both the hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE and the Chicago Teachers Union have opposed Pritzker’s nomination. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said, quote, "As a member of the board of education, she has worked to close schools, destabilize neighborhoods and disrupt the economic lives of thousands of public school employees."

Well, for more, we’re joined by David Moberg, senior editor of In These Times . His recent  article is headlined "3 Troubling Things To Know About Billionaire Penny Pritzker."

David Moberg, welcome to  Democracy Now! What are those three troubling things?

David Moberg: Well, one of the things has to do with that anti-labor record. And it’s a record not simply of attacking labor unions, although there are two prominent examples. One is this battle withUNITE HERE, where Hyatt has refused to reach an agreement with the hotel union that’s based on the pattern that other major hotel chains have already adopted, and it has pursued a pattern of subcontracting of work and a general harsh treatment of its workforce at the hotels. In terms of another prominent labor clash, the—Penny Pritzker was one of the prime instigators of passage of a law in the state of Illinois that took away many of the rights from the Chicago Teachers Union and provoked a long strike here in Chicago. So, first of all, there’s been this specific kind of anti-labor record, but more broadly, there’s been a pattern of policies the Pritzkers have promoted that work to the disadvantage of working-class people in Chicago and around the country.