Thursday, October 16, 2008

Unite HERE Drops Jobs, Picks Up Architectural Criticism

posted by chicago pop

Following on Peter Rossi's deconstruction of the latest piece of propaganda against hotel plans at Doctors Hospital, it seems worthwhile to look back and see how Unite HERE has changed its direct mail strategy. So I'm re-posting a riff on some direct mail we received from Unite HERE at the beginning of the current drama about a year ago.

In the initial mailing, sent before the dry option nonsense took hold, jobs were mentioned upfront.

Those days are over. That line clearly was not going to help Hans Morsbach or Dr. Rechtschaffen rally the troops. Too remote from the conservative NIMBY heart.

In the latest specimen of preservationist "Willie Hortonism" (see direct mail reproduced below), we see that the Karl Roves of the world don't limit themselves to the political Right, but are happy to preside over the illegitimate marriage of middle class NIMBYs and outside union reps.

(Stay tuned for a deconstruction of the "Axis of Foolishness" from this week's letters to the editor!)


Local Notables Shill For Outside Lobby (originally posted October 8, 2007)
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.


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.


edj said...

I am very surprised UNITE HERE is driving jobs away because President Obama has promised to sign the check card bill that allows unions to get a majority of workers to sign cards asking for a union election. If they get enough cards, they get a union. So they are actually hurting themselves through supporting this process. All they have to do is wait for the hotel to be built and then work to get enough workers to sign cards.

What a bunch of chuckleheads.

Richard Gill said...

Even if Unite Here officials realize that their present course does harm to job prospects for union members and potential members, it is unlikely they will admit the mistake and lose face. They seem to have convinced their own members that killing jobs is somehow to workers' advantage. What hypocrisy on the part of the union leadership. What a shame for the membership. What a shame for people who need jobs.

Another hypocrisy in all this is the continuing outcry against the Hyde Park urban renewal of the 1960s. Actually, the anti-development people revel in what they call the urban renewal's blandness and emptiness. They say they want the vibrant commercial Hyde Park of the 1950s, yet they fight tooth and nail against any efforts to bring vitality to the neighborhood. Most of them probably can't even remember the pre-urban renewal community that they claim to miss. They are not only used to having nothing around them, they love it that way.

chicago pop said...

It's interesting that the union stuff is completely absent in most of the Big Poobah's letters. They usually mention it as an appendage to a preceding list, "labor related issues". It's not what our teetotalers care about.

But it's not clear what they DO care about. This week Dr. Rechtschaffen claims that the Fighting 39ers are using the nuclear option while fully aware of the potential consequences to all future development at that site, while 2 columns over (across Richard Gill's lone and refreshing dissent) Morsbach insists that the they are NOT using the nuclear option and only object to this hotel plan, not to all future hotel plans.

I suppose it would be too much for these folks to agree among themselves about what they are doing.

Richard Gill said...

"Morsbach insists that they...only object to this hotel plan, not to all future hotel plans."

What future hotel? A hotel that's no more than 20 feet tall, so Morsbach can't see it over the railroad embankment, and it won't block any Vista Homes vistas? A hotel that will offer free shuttle service within 100 miles, because it won't allow guests to bring cars? A hotel that will look exactly like the Blackstone? Or Cobb Hall? Or the (limestone) Point? One can only imagine what the Fighting 39ers will find to their liking.