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3 Ways Women Workers are Fighting Discrimination, Wage Theft, and Abuse on the Job

Women workers are attacking low pay and bias from many angles, assailing wage laws that exclude them, suing over outright discrimination, and trying to organize unions.

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Three weeks later she and her sister, Lorena, were fired. Lorena had worked for the hotel more than 20 years.

The two, both supporters of a union drive at the hotel, marched with 200 others in front of the hotel on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The marchers surrounded the hotel with clotheslines and pinned up hand-painted T-shirts with slogans like “My name is not Sweetie Pie,” and “I’m done being pushed around.”

Low pay goes along with the disrespect, said Lorena Reyes. Raises have been miniscule or nonexistent in her career there. She hasn’t been able to afford the health insurance, since premiums are up to $400 a month.

Management is resisting unionization at hotels in Santa Clara, Indianapolis, and San Antonio, while contracts at most union Hyatts expired more than two years ago. The union has been escalating its efforts, with week-long strikes and a widening boycott that the union says has cost the chain at least $25 million.

UNITE HERE seeks an agreement that allows workers to launch boycotts or strikes on behalf of other Hyatt workers. “We all work for the same company,” said Antonia Cortez, a San Francisco Hyatt housekeeper who participated in a week-long strike. “We should have the right to stand up for each other.”

The Reyes sisters have received considerable support, and not just from UNITE HERE. The National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and women’s studies professors have all voiced solidarity and pledged to boycott the hotel.

Management’s response: to plaster posters of Rosie the Riveter on bulletin boards, with a voice bubble: “Hyatt Celebrates Women at Work.”

The 1% Of The 1%

 

Hyatt’s owners might well celebrate women at work, because they’ve gotten rich on housekeepers’ hard work and low pay. The 450-hotel corporation is controlled by the billionaire Pritzkers, Chicago’s wealthiest family.

The housekeepers are going up against what Chicago UNITE HERE President Henry Tamarin calls “the 1% of the 1%.” Hyatt heir Penny Pritzker sits on President Obama’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness, and is once again serving on his campaign fundraising committee.

The union recently pointed out that Pritzker family members, along with Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, have appealed their personal property tax assessments 70 times since 2003, reducing taxes on their Chicago mansions by $344,000.

Fired—And Arrested

 

In Will County, Illinois, warehouse workers are making a public issue of the sexual harassment they say is endemic there. A county board member and a city council member heard testimony at a March 8 hearing that drew 100 people.

In the most egregious case, Latina immigrants at the Partners Warehouse complained to management about sexual harassment and sexual assault by supervisor Brian Swaw, the son of the vice president.

When nothing happened they went to the police in Elwood, a small town where the warehouses are the biggest source of revenue. But instead of investigating, cops filed criminal charges against the assault victim, 19-year-old Priscilla Marshall, for “filing a false police report.” She spent 16 days in jail and faces felony charges; two of her fellow workers were in jail for a week.

Marshall, her mother, and other witnesses were fired and some are being charged with forgery and theft of food from the warehouse.

Partners hired an investigator—a policeman and friend of the alleged abuser—to look into the sexual harassment charges. One worker says the investigator threatened him physically and suggested he could be deported.

The workers have filed suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Warehouse Workers for Justice has started a legal defense fund. WWJ is signing up churches, unions, and politicians on a letter calling on the state’s attorney to drop charges.

 
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