Monday, October 8, 2007

Local Notables Shill for Outside Lobby

posted by chicago pop

Is Hyde Park outsourcing its activism?

Such would seem to be the case, based on the document I have before me, signed by 5 local notables and requesting recipients to call Leslie Hairston and ask her to block the University's proposed hotel project at the site of Doctors Hospital.

Why?

Chiefly on account of the troubled track record of labor relations at White Lodging, the hotel management company. The letter came in an envelope with a return address "Local 1" on Van Buren Street. The stamp and mailing were paid for by Unite Here! a union representing industrial, textile, and service workers.

Now, the fact that a number of respected and senior neighborhood folks signed this letter, each likely recruited on the basis of presumed "thought leadership," does not lessen the fact that the letter is moderately incoherent, and comes across as hijacking a local issue for the benefit an outside interest group.

I'm not against unions. What I am against is something that is unique to the history of labor: building a movement by driving jobs away. Historically, labor has organized and fought over jobs that already exist. The fight was often between the folks that had jobs, and the ones who wanted them. But first you needed to have jobs. That's how you get leverage in a union -- you start by being able to sit down on the shop floor.

With this strategy, on the other hand, the union has no leverage. It doesn't even have a potential source of new recruits. It has nothing, and leaves the 5th and surrounding wards with deep reservoirs of poverty and no more jobs than they started with. But it does have publicity, and can lend it to a few cranky people who are worried about loosing their views of the Lake. Neighborhood politics make strange bedfellows -- high-rise dwellers with lake views and single family home owners on one side, together with chamber maids and busboys on the other. Do you smell a marriage of convenience?

The Spice Girls and Boys were probably right not to tackle the University head-on with this one, because they would surely lose, just like Unite Here! is going to lose with this campaign. Hairston voted against the Big Box Ordinance in 2006, stating clearly that her constituents would rather she bring some jobs to her ward, even low-wage ones, rather than none at all. That stance probably hasn't changed.

So whose "community" is being lobbied here? Folks interested in what the ever-shifting and opportunistic "community" thinks in this case should reflect on Hairston's statement of why she voted against the Big Box Ordinance:

"I will vote the way my community told me to vote last night,” she said. “And they told me to vote no. "

That community, the one that wants jobs and currently doesn't have enough, must not be the same community as the one this letter was sent to, with the high-profile signatories, who so earnestly want to protect the jobs that the other community doesn't have.

But let's move on to the clumsy attempts to splice this union campaign onto the trunk of local grievances. "Our message is simple: Respect our neighborhood, respect our values, respect the workers."

Translation: respect our entitlement to park for free in front of our house; respect our obstruction of every project that would bring property-tax paying businesses into the school district; and respect the workers who I would rather not make noise and disturb me in my back yard.

In the end, this petition, while highlighting labor issues that are legitimate, hooks them up to a boilerplate set of NIMBY gripes that have much less to do with labor than with middle class dyspepsia. The hotel will benefit the neighborhood in many, many ways, but it will be a change, and change is what NIMBYs are allergic to, even if it benefits the rest of us.

22 comments:

Peter Rossi said...

Hyde Parkers are too smart to be duped by union organizers from outside of the neighborhood.

this is becuase the 'activists' have already figured out that they have lost the battle -- they can't make a coherent argument that the Doctor's Hospital is represents a significant contribution to architecture. The Doctor's Hosptial is an ugly, pedestrian and utterly useless structure.

Those who will use this hotel are ,for the most part, not able to vote on this "referendum."

If you don't like White Lodging, don't go to the hotel and urge others not to. Don't deprive our neighborhood of a much needed source of amenities and jobs.

Alderman Hairston has already shown that she wants to improve the lot of the consumers and workers in her ward and not oppose a development simply because some are worried about what they conceive as their personal right to public parking spaces.

That is what is about -- it's not "power to the workers" but
power to the parking space in front of my house on Harper Ave (some 3 blocks from the site). A parking space that was paid for by taxes we all pay.

Contentions of congestion are ridiculous on a street that fronts on a public park!!

curtsy said...

PR - how is Stony Island 3 blocks from Harper??

curtsy said...

Famac -- in regards to Hairston, her constituency extends far beyond HP.

James said...

C-Pop:"I'm not against unions."

But you're not going to lift a finger to help one, either, are you?

UNITE-HERE, besides having one of the best track records of organizing new members in the last 20 years, also represents those workers we should be doing the most to help: low-wage service employees doing private-sector, for-profit work in industries which won't be moving overseas. To top it off, they've been very successful in getting their members stronger contracts in Chicago and only a few hoteliers have refused to sign on.

"What I am against is something that is unique to the history of labor: building a movement by driving jobs away. Historically, labor has organized and fought over jobs that already exist. The fight was often between the folks that had jobs, and the ones who wanted them. But first you needed to have jobs. That's how you get leverage in a union -- you start by being able to sit down on the shop floor."

You're woefully uninformed. In the first place, the primary weapon unions have is the strike, which stops work, another way of saying that a job is lost, at least temporarily. The fight was almost never between those who had jobs and those who didn't; the fight was between workers bargaining collectively and their employers. Sitting down on the shop floor is an illegal tactic and has been for some time.

C-Pop, it could just be that the people working at UNITE might know just a wee bit more about such things than you do. What they're doing here is called a "corporate campaign". If an employer is especially hostile to labor, then you make it difficult for him wherever you can. This goes on all the time and is another weapon in a union's arsenal.

In any case, the dispute about this development is not, primarily, whether there will be a hotel on the site. Oh, I suppose there are a few who are completely NIMBY on this, but if that were the only issue, they'd probably have to settle for trying to reduce the scale.

The vast, vast majority of those fighting White Development believe a hotel should go there. They just want a different developer and a more enticing design for what will be a gateway to the Univ and HP for many visitors. The Univ has gone out of its way here to reward a big donor. The lack of openness, which they've been outstanding on at 53rd/Harper, lends credence to the argument that the big donor is more important to them than the neighborhood is. They should expect pushback if they're going to act this way.

This is not a battle between "hotel" and "no hotel". It's an argument over how the hotel should fit into our community.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I'm imagining the signatories and reps from Local 1 (who footed the bill for all those 41 cent stamps), earnestly discussing how many sentences to devote to preservation versus labor practices in the letter before they mailed it.

chicago pop said...

What a nice day for a little debate on labor history. To confine oneself strictly to a northern city like Chicago, the story is very much one of trades unions dominated by certain ethnic groups trying to keep others, typically new immigrant arrivals without jobs, or with less desirable jobs, or blacks, or women, out. So I'm afraid I disagree with you on this.
(The "last-one-in" mentality of some union conflicts resembles NIMBY-ism, which is why the two may wind up in bed together.)

As for driving away jobs, in the theory of socialism or communism the ideal has never been to reduce employment, or jobs, or prevent new plant from opening, or to prevent jobs from being created. Strikes that went that far were disasters, and weren't supposed to. The ideal was to take over a plant, whatever the method, regardless of what is now considered legal or illegal.

As for the nifty new technique that is rolled out here, I'm sure there are people that have put a lot of time into developing it. It may have a lot to do with PR-driven, consumer-oriented media campaigns, but it is anomalous in the history of labor movements.

James said...

C-Pop:"To confine oneself strictly to a northern city like Chicago, the story is very much one of trades unions dominated by certain ethnic groups trying to keep others, typically new immigrant arrivals without jobs, or with less desirable jobs, or blacks, or women, out."

Good Lord! You know, I suppose there was a time about 75 years ago when your latest wild assertion was somewhat true. Apparently, you completely missed out on the CIO, the rise of public employee unions, that tiny band of American syndicalists (whom I'm sympathetic to) or the recent large-scale campaigns to organize janitors and hotel workers. Since the rise of the CIO in the thirties, organized labor has been a key advocate for inclusiveness in our society.

C-Pop:"As for the nifty new technique that is rolled out here..."

Corporate campaigns-- or more accurately "comprehensive" campaigns-- had their start in the 1970's. I guess if you have a 1930's cartoon view of organized labor, they seem like a "nifty new technique".

I don't enjoy being nasty, but it seems like about half of your assertions are not only mistaken but also just nasty caricatures of people you have no idea about. Why can't you be more like Elizabeth?

Google "corporate campaign" or check out the Wikipedia articles on trade unions and comprehensive campaigns for some info, please.

James said...

Here's C-Pop's article in a nutshell:

"I don't care enough about UNITE or any other unions to actually become more informed about what they do. Maybe they help the working poor become middle class, but I can't be bothered to find out. If that's what they're doing, I guess I'm for that, as long as it doesn't stand in the way of getting a new hotel for Hyde Park. Yeah, they may even be involved in a good cause that I would support if it were elsewhere (message: I care), but Not In My BackYard."

chicago pop said...

The dispute here revolves around my comment that "The fight was often between the folks that had jobs, and the ones who wanted them." Nothing James has said disproves this, and nothing he has added contradicts this. There are many aspects to the story. What these last post have contributed, and what will get him banished should it continue, is a heightening of personal invective.

Calm down if you wish to come back.

Peter Rossi said...

James and Curtsy- you are showing your true stripes here.

If you want to participate in a reasoned discussion, great. But don't insult people and don't rant.

There is a great story about Winston Churchill that is relevant here- in the margin of one of his speeches a biographer found writing in his own hand -- "weak point, speak louder"


The way to further discussion and understanding is to respond to Chicago Pop's points. Chicago Pop carefully addresses your legitimate points. Why not return the favor? Shrillness does not become yhou.

curtsy. The doctor's hospital is exactly 3 blocks from Hans More-bucks' house on Harper near 59th! Try to walk it some day!

Peter Rossi said...

Let's try to reason with some of the arguments here.

If the University is merely trying to satisfy a "big donor," this means that a less than optimal hotel will be build. What group is hurt the most by this? Actually, it is the University. They don't want another Slumada here. They want a great operation that can allow visitors to HP and the university to obtain quality service. So, in fact, the university has interests that are perfectly aligned with the neighborhood here. I know this is inconvenient for those who see evil capitalist conspiracies in their soup, but this is what stands the test of reason.

This is the basic fallacy in the argument against development. There is a market of consumers out there. If the developer builds a shoddy apt house or hotel or store, they won't get any customers! Witness the Slumada and the Co-op.

SR said...

Do we know if there are any other developers interested in the site who have been elbowed out by a big donor, and whether or not they treat their workers well?

To me it's perfectly legitimate for a labor union to attempt to plague whatever employer is behaving badly in its every root and branch, and I don't feel too excited about pleading the case of this particular developer if the allegations in the letter are true. Of course the downside to opposing the White Lodging hotel over labor issues is the risk of ending up with either no new development (and hence no new jobs at all), or with another developer that treats its employees just as badly or worse.

Peter Rossi: “This is the basic fallacy in the argument against development. There is a market of consumers out there. If the developer builds a shoddy apt house or hotel or store, they won't get any customers! Witness the Slumada and the Co-op.”

True in theory, but doesn’t the free market seem to be seriously broken in Hyde Park? The Ramada has been here for over 20 years I think. Bad businesses don’t go away and get replaced here with the same alacrity you see in other areas.

chicago pop said...

"Of course the downside to opposing the White Lodging hotel over labor issues is the risk of ending up with either no new development (and hence no new jobs at all), or with another developer that treats its employees just as badly or worse."

That is indeed the downside. Let's get the jobs into the neighborhood, instead of chasing them away.

Famac said...

Are Co-Op workers unionized?

chicago pop said...

Yes.

SR said...

FWIW, I Googled around a bit about White Lodging. It turns out the religious discrimination suit is about them forbidding employees to wear hijab at one of their Indiana hotels. I couldn’t find independent reports about any of the rest of it. If there’s any justice, they’ll lose the discrimination suit and won’t be able to pull that kind of thing at any of their hotels in the future; the other stuff might not arise much in a Hyde Park location. I doubt they’d be able to recruit a quality work force here for the same low wages they can in Indiana, or get away with violating federal labor law on breaks. You never know, though.

The University of Chicago is a MUCH worse offender on labor issues than these guys sound like, it’s kind of bitterly amusing that anyone’s petitioning the U of C against an employer on this basis. (Both the U of C custodial staff and the Lab School teachers used to be unionized, both unions were busted during the Hannah Grey years back in the 80s IIRC.)

Elizabeth Fama said...

Hmm...I don't know about janitors, but the Lab School teachers are still unionized.

SR said...

That phrase "IIRC" comes in so handy now that I'm senile.

I could have sworn there were at least two groups of U of C employers that lost their unions during the 80s, but if it wasn't the Lab School teachers I don't know who the 2nd group was.

chicago pop said...

From famac:

SR said: "If there’s any justice, they’ll lose the discrimination suit and won’t be able to pull that kind of thing at any of their hotels in the future."

Thanks for looking that up, though I can understand why a hotel wouldn't want employees to wear hijab. Uniform dress codes are typically common place in the service industry.

If we start defining clothing as part of a religious practice, we will be stripping (sorry) employers of one of their basic rights; controlling the dress codes of people they are paying.

Just as an extreme, what if I start a religion where clothing is against my faith?

Famac said...

I guess the French Governmnet and Hyde Park liberals have finally found something to disagree about!

SR said...

Well if you think wearing a headscarf is as disruptive as being naked, then I guess that's a valid argument. In reality I think anti-discrimination law allows employers to disregard religious beliefs if they have a compelling and non-invidious reason to do so (for example, they do not have to give Saturdays and religious holidays off to Orthodox Jews).

The French reasoning on banning hijab would never fly in the U.S. in a million years; European attitudes on human rights are significantly different than American ones, and not in a good way in my opinion. They seem to think of human rights as gifts of the government rather than as a birthright, and indistinguishable in status from other items in the basket of goods the government should provide; hence some truly surreal--to an American--discussions of how to "balance" free speech and other forms of political freedom against the "need" for the government to protect various groups of people from unpleasantness that I was following on British message boards last year, in regard to the newish U.K. law on religious "hate crimes."

French legal structures about religious rights grew up around the desire to actively suppress the influence of the Catholic Church in social and political life, whereas U.S. law is about guaranteeing religious freedom. And even within that structure, the French decision relied on the self-evidently bogus assertion that wearing hijab is equivalent to wearing a cross around your neck, which it just isn't. I would certainly hope that most liberals disagreed with that decision, but I don't really know.

curtsy said...

PR - I am unaware of insulting anyone via this thread or on this blog, for that matter. And what rant do you refer to? Finally, what stripes am I showing?

As for the distance from from the corner of 59th and Harper to Doc Hos, it's one block from Harper to 59th & Stony and another block to DH. Where's the third block? Or is THAT the Third Place??