Bay Area Workers Up in Arms

Hyatt Housekeepers Sue the Hotel in San Jose

In San Jose, two housekeepers at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after they were fired for protesting against sexual harassment. Martha and Lorena Reyes came to work and saw photos of themselves grafted onto images of women in bikinis, posted on the company bulletin board. They tore them down. Then they were fired.

“When I arrived at my job one day in September, I heard my co-workers laughing at a photo collage posted on the wall,” Martha recalled. “I saw a photo of my face edited onto the “sexy” body of a bikini-clad woman holding a surfboard. A similar faked image of my sister Lorena had also been posted. I was humiliated, and I took down the photos of my sister and me. I wouldn’t give them back, and I said that if anyone wanted the photos back they would have to get them from me in court. Days later the hotel fired us.”

Lorena worked at the hotel property for 24 years, and Martha worked there for seven. “I have five children and legal custody of three grandchildren, and I’m now in danger of losing my home,” Martha added.

Both women have supported the effort of UNITE HERE Local 19 to win a fair contract at the hotel. One reason workers want a union there is the high rate of job injuries. According to the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Hyatt housekeepers have the highest injury rate of all housekeepers it studied. State and Federal health and safety authorities have issued 16 citations against the Hyatt at 11 hotels. “We did not deserve to be fired. We just want to be treated with respect,” Martha said.

Teachers Go On Strike at Cal State East Bay

On November 17 members of the California Faculty Association shut down two campuses in the state university system, in Hayward and Dominguez Hills. At Cal State East Bay, almost all of the normal 600 classes were cancelled. Traffic backed up so far that police shut down the roads in and out of the campus.

Faculty members of the California Faculty Association have been trying to negotiate a new contract, and are incensed by the raises and perks given by Chancellor Reed to top executives, while claiming the system is broke, that fees for students must rise, and salaries for faculty must decline.

As chanting and dancing students joined teachers on the picket lines, Kim Geron, CFA Vice President of the California Faculty Association voiced solidarity with the Occupy movement that has led young people to erect encampments across the country. “The American people feel an urgency to save the American middle class,” he said. “We see that with the Occupy movement all over the country. Here in California on the CSU campuses, we feel the same way. The Chancellor is taking care of his management team behind closed doors, just like the 1% of Americans have been taken care of in this country. The CSU community has had enough.”

Lillian Taiz, CFA President, added, “Chancellor Reed is completely out of touch with what is happening on the 23 CSU campuses. He is very in touch with his Presidents and management team – and the salaries and perks that they all enjoy.” The same points were made by Cornel West, the noted African American historian, who visited the picket lines at CSU East Bay. “Human life is not subject to cold market calculations,” he declared.

Casino San Pablo Workers Protest Anti-Union Firing

At Casino San Pablo just north of Richmond, workers and community supporters joined in a candlelight vigil to focus public attention on the termination of one worker, the threatened firing of another, and efforts by the wealthy casino to roll back benefits for its employees.

One worker, who declined to be identified, came to the vigil with his wife and daughter. He was fired after he took time off to mourn the death of his father, according to Hindu ritual. While the casino gave him permission to take the time, he was fired after he returned to his job. “I feel that I have been targeted as a union leader and that the Casino management is not respecting my religious and cultural traditions,” he said.

Another worker, Ruth Springs, is due to have a baby any day, but was told that she would have to return to work three days after giving birth or lose her job. “During these difficult economic times, my family has already had to move into a smaller apartment,” she said. “Now I am worried that we could lose our health care and end up on the streets. No one, especially not an expecting mother, should have to go through what I am going through”.

Despite making fabulous profits, Casino San Pablo is replacing full time workers, who have benefits, with part timers who do not. The company is demanding extensive givebacks in contract negotiations, after getting help from the workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 2850, in getting permits to set up the casino years ago.

“These are the some of the most significant moments in any of our lives — the death of a parent and the birth of a child.” said Local 2850 President Wei Ling Huber. “These are times when we should be showing sympathy and compassion for workers, rather than creating even greater hardship and insecurity.”

All photos © 2011 David Bacon


For more articles and images, see:

See also Illegal People — How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US,
Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)