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Posted in Editorials, Opinion

Hotel Workers’ Rights Campaign Update following meeting with President Bloom

By
February 3, 2009

Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) would like to update the campus community about the status of the campaign for card check neutrality at the proposed Swarthmore Inn. This week, we met with President Bloom and came to a mutual understanding that the College can make a timely decision, regardless of its economic situation or the status of the hotel project. We communicated to President Bloom that our concern stems from the reality that the hotel’s operator—not the College—will have ultimate control over jobs at the hotel and as such could not be held accountable to the campus community. Consequently, it is imperative that the College sign an agreement guaranteeing workplace democracy in advance.

Broad campus-wide support for the hotel campaign and growing national consensus in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act clearly indicate that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process is seriously flawed and that card check neutrality is the appropriate alternative. We hope that President Bloom and the Board of Managers will act accordingly.

In our meeting, President Bloom agreed that his senior staff will discuss the issue in the coming week and will meet with a union representative to look over the language of card check agreements. We look forward to hearing back from the administration as to the results of those conversations and to a timely decision that reflects the College’s stance on workplace democracy. It would be a shame if the College fell behind other comparable institutions in its longstanding commitment to social responsibility.

Maurice Weeks ‘09

Megan Long ‘12

Zoe Bridges-Curry ‘09

22 Responses to Hotel Workers’ Rights Campaign Update following meeting with President Bloom

  1. skeptical

    February 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    I'm sorry, SLAP, but to say that there is "broad campus-wide support for the hotel campaign" is just a flat out lie.

    Do SLAP members actually believe that the average Swattie can explain what card check neutrality is let alone whether he/she supports it?

    That a small campus activist group makes ultimatums to the campus administration without first successfully garnering the support of the general campus community is an insult to the Swarthmore community. How can we believe that SLAP cares about "workplace democracy" when they haven't engaged in campus democracy? Take the issue to the community. If the community supports it, take it to the administration. Don't go over our heads and pretend the community is behind you.

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  2. ??

    February 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    what is card check neutrality

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  3. Anonymous

    February 23, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I feel SLAP has been very transparent throughout this entire process, they have held a huge number of events from Hotel Workers panels to documentary screenings all to help educate Swatties on this very important issue. If you were not able to make it to the events that is regrettable since they did a fantastic job putting on some really good events that were accessible to those of us who do not know a lot about labor rights/justice/activism. I would encourage you to keep an eye open for more of these events and go to them before criticizing the group.

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  4. MS

    February 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Anonymous: It isn't the student body's job to attend SLAP and research whether or not the idea is a good one. It is *SLAP's* job to reach out to students and get a real majority backing of Swatties—which is hard to do, I know.

    From what I understand, SLAP is threatening the BOM with getting the liquor license withdrawn from the Inn, and they are saying that they’ve got the support of most Swarthmore students. This is a big threat to pull out, and as far as I can tell, they DON’T have that support.

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  5. skeptical

    February 23, 2009 at 11:09 am

    I'm with MS–I think that threat to the board of managers (if it occurred) was extreme, insulting and dishonest. Our community should have the opportunity to make policy decisions based on their merits. There should not be a place here for such coercive intimidation tactics.

    Also, consider that SLAP would rather pull the liquor license for the Inn, which would put it out of business, than lose the card check fight. Carrying out this threat would force the very people they are trying to protect, workers, into unemployment during a recession! SLAP says they care about workers' best interests, but this threat shows how totally hypocritical SLAP really is.

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  6. another skeptic

    February 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Yeah, maybe I just hang out with too many econ majors, but I see no evidence of broad campus-wide support for this. I'd be interested to see the results if the administration did a poll (or perhaps the Daily Gazette did a poll…. hint hint?).

    But fortunately most of the SLAP people are graduating this year. Maybe then we can get Coke back….

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  7. Miles Skorpen

    February 23, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    We'd offer one, but currently our poll feature is rather broken. I'll add it to my to-do list though.

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  8. a parent

    February 23, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Realistically, the odds of the Inn project going forward in this economy have to be somewhere between slim and none. The campaign to stand for workers on card check is reminiscent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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  9. 0_0

    February 23, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    can the gazette do a story on what SLAP is trying to accomplish here? they clearly failed at getting the message out themselves, but i think people would appreciate it if someone stepped up to shed light on why exactly they were "threatening" the BoM in our name and to what they are assigning our supposed "support."

    and anonymous, yeah, it's the students' jobs to educate ourselves on workers issues in order to be informed citizens yadda yadda. but when it comes to a fringe group comprised largely of controversial former kick-coke members claiming that the campus broadly supports their initiative, it no longer becomes the burden of the students to educate themselves. if SLAP is going to speak for everyone they should educate everyone first.

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  10. mertz

    February 24, 2009 at 9:20 am

    "they should educate everyone first" "It is *SLAP's* job to reach out to students and get a real majority backing of Swatties" … I think these comments are unfair.

    They threw events specifically aimed at educating the student body AND they had that petition going around. In my dorm they had the petition combined with a get-educated-about-labor study break. That's way more than most groups that petition the Board do.
    I didn't sign the SLAP petition but clearly a lot of people did. And I don't think you should have to get minimum 751 of us to sign it to say that you have the support of the majority of students because it's unrealistic to expect that everyone will participate. And I kind of think that most people who aren't in support are more apathetic than against. Maybe I'm wrong, but if I am, then the anti-SLAP people should start getting organized and make THEIR case to us and to the Board.

    I agree that there should be a poll, though, since that would be a better instrument than a petition at gaging support. And if the poll showed that most students don't agree with SLAP then SLAP can take the hint that they need to do MORE educating/campaigning/etc to convince us.

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  11. skeptical

    February 24, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Mertz, petitioning the board and threatening it are different. I'm not anti- or pro- card check neutrality so I'm not in an 'anti-SLAP camp'. If SLAP had said "x% of the student body signed this petition and you should consider instituting this policy" I would have no problem with them. But threatening to shut down a proposed campus development plan while pretending to speak for the student body does require, in my mind, a much higher degree of student support.

    I hope that any poll on the issue includes the options "I agree," "I disagree," and most importantly, "I don't know enough about this issue". I think the vast majority of Swatties would fall under the last category.

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  12. notari

    February 24, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Perhaps a more detailed and public manifesto on SLAP's part would be helpful?

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  13. MS

    February 24, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I'd also note that if students are apathetic about a cause, it is because SLAP hasn't done a good enough job selling it. They can't SAY the student body supports it if they haven't actually gotten widespread support—its not my job to tell the Board that SLAP is lying when they say most of Swarthmore students haven't vocally supported card-check neutrality. It is SLAP's responsibility not to make misleading statements.

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  14. JJ England

    February 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Hi everyone,

    Thanks for all of your comments. SLAP would like to take this opportunity to address some of the questions that have arisen here. We hope to release a more extensive op-ed in the Gazette shortly.

    After meeting with the Board this past weekend, SLAP came to the decision not to move forward with the initiative to put the question of whether or not the Inn should be able to serve liquor on the ballot. The administration, who we have been meeting with extensively, did not pass on the majority of our dialogue to the Board (which is typically the accepted process for communicating with the Board). Despite our best efforts, this caused the Board of Managers to be out of the loop on this issue. Because we respect the Board’s need to make an informed decision on this matter, we are not currently moving forward with the ballot initiative. Instead, the Board and SLAP mutually agreed this past Saturday to several conditions which should prevent this same breakdown in communication from happening in the future, while simultaneously alleviating our concern that students will not be able to weigh in on this project before the contract is signed with the developer. These four conditions were:

    –That the Board commit to the principles of responsiveness and transparency about the inn project

    –That no agreement with the developer be signed at a time when students are not on campus – this includes but is not limited to summer, winter, spring, and fall breaks

    –That SLAP will be notified at least 30 days before the Board enters into an agreement with the developer

    –That the Board will provide SLAP with a written description of the decision-making process, explaining clearly who is involved in the selection process, what their involvement is and at what times, and how the contract signing process will occur

    The Inn Project has morphed considerably since its inception, turning into a project significantly larger than the Borough’s commission ever recommended. Because many of these changes raise concerns (not just labor concerns), we believe it’s important that the entire student body be able to weigh in before the College signs a contract that will have a significant impact on the entire campus community, as well as the Borough. We believe that the conditions agreed to above will help make this possible.

    Back to our campaign: Throughout the past six months, SLAP has held many educational events so that students can come to their own decision about whether or not card-check neutrality is the best way to protect workers’ rights at the Swarthmore Inn. These events included: a union / non-union hotel worker panel, study breaks held in every dorm, two documentary screenings, and a pillow-fight (mostly for fun). While holding these events, over five hundred students signed a petition in support of card-check at the Inn.

    This petition can be seen here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/swathotel/

    To us, this does represent a significant portion of the student body, especially when considering that not all students were likely able to participate, and that a student choosing not to sign the petition did not always mean that s/he was against it—just apathetic or indifferent. We understand that everybody has busy schedules. For people that weren’t able to attend our events over the past six months, we plan to continue holding events in the future. We will be holding another panel soon and plan to advertise the event heavily. Also look for op-eds in the campus papers explaining why we believe card-check neutrality and this campaign is so important. Regardless of whether every student agrees with the nuances of what we are asking for, we want every student to be as informed as possible on this issue.

    Finally, we would like to respond to a couple more specific comments/concerns. One person mentioned that seeking to shut down the hotel takes away the jobs that we are trying to protect. In its current form, we are deeply concerned about this hotel. It will be an on-campus establishment built in cooperation with the College, but, as it stands, there is absolutely no oversight for labor practices at the hotel beyond what is mandated by law. Given that there is a simple to solution to this problem, we believe that the hotel should not be built until some basic protections are put in place. Our ask is simple: the College should make it as easy as possible for workers at the hotel to form a union, if they so choose, so that they can ensure fair labor practices at the Inn. This allows the college to remain largely disconnected from the project while simultaneously safeguarding working conditions, wages, etc at the Inn.

    A parent wrote in a comment above that due to the economic climate, this hotel will not be built any time in the near future. We agree that this may be true. However, the College and Borough have both stressed that this project is a high priority and that this hotel will be built. The only thing holding the project back is funding, and the College is actively seeking funding from the state and federal government. Recently, the college put in a request for funding for the project through the economic stimulus package, since the hotel would be built right next to a transportation hub (the R3). This funding may very well come through. The College has not in fact put a freeze on this project—it is simply waiting for money to come in, or for enough seed capital to become available that a lender will be interested. Because the College can sign a card-check agreement at any time, we firmly believe that the College should sign now, especially since it is very unclear when construction on the Inn will begin (it could be six months from now, or five years from now).

    Sincerely,
    SLAP

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  15. Ruth Schultz

    February 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    as a "controversial former kick-coke member" myself, and a member of SLAP, I think maybe a clarification on the make-up of the group is helpful. Of the 30 plus members, a total of 4 of them were on the kick coke campiagn. I would not call that a fringe group dominated by kick coke. But thats not the point, really. There are many freshman and members of other classes involved in this campiagn because workers rights matter in the work for economic justice. Student labor organizing is alive and thriving on Swarthmore's campus, and will continue to be an important presence here even after the seniors are gone. Thats what good organizing is.. developing new leaders to build a sustainable group that is not dominated by a few people.

    and yes, "fortunately," I will be gone next year and be in a place where people recognize the importance of organizing, and not our own elitist conceptions of social justice.

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  16. skeptical

    February 25, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    I do appreciate the clarification from SLAP members and I'm glad they decided not to move forward with the ballot initiative. Still, it would have been nice if they actually admitted their error and apologized for threatening the board in our name. After all, the 500 student signatories to their petition in no way agreed to any threats to shut down the hotel. The petition only reads "I support the principles of card check neutrality…"

    After reading up a bit on card check neutrality, I worry that there is a strong analogy between the card check process and SLAP's petition process, both of which can undermine thoughtful decision making. Slowly, signatures accumulate in support of the measure (unionizing, or Swat's hotel policy) until a majority is reached and the policy goes into force (automatically, in the unionizing case). (It's worth noting that signatures always accumulate on such measures– After all, the number of signatures on a petition simply NEVER goes down, regardless of how awful of an idea the petition is.) Unfortunately, no final poll is conducted to ensure that a true majority currently exists, and the signatories often only hear one side of the issue before making a decision. So, if a signatory heard a competing argument and changed his or her mind, the new opinion wouldn't be registered.

    The main economic argument against unionization is that it forces people into unemployment. When workers demand more, a company can't hire as many workers and might have to fire existing staff. The firm might even have to shut down. Workers and Swatties should have the opportunity to at least be exposed to such arguments before deciding on issues.

    So, I guess for now I think that anonymous polls are fairer than petitions or card checks in terms of gauging true preferences. I'm no expert and I'm open to being convinced, though, especially if I'm misunderstanding the card check process.

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  17. skeptical of skeptical

    February 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    skeptical, sweetie, I understand that you THINK you learned unions are bad in your intro econ course; but that's NOT necessarily the case.

    While it's true that we learned higher-than-market wages leads to higher-than-equilibrium unemployment; we make TWO important ASSUMPTIONS in that analysis: (1) we are assuming the the employer already pays to workers a wage that is line with their productivity, that is the market wage, and DOES NOT abuse the workers by paying them below this in order to fatten their bottom line! This is not always the case, especially if the employer has a lot more leverage over the employees.

    (2) another assumption is that unions are bad because they MAY increase wages above market price. BUT the reality is any form of market power (like monopoly) is a market failure, thus if we have VERY LARGE and POWERFUL employers in the market, unionizing and thus spreading market power can actually lead to a more efficient outcome by pushing the wage to an amount closer to equilibrium.

    Personally, I rather have jobs that allow the workers to support their family and live decently, than have a gazillion crappy jobs..thank the so-called free market ppl for America being ridiculed as the only place in the developed world where workers need 2 or 3 jobs in order to survive.

    the only way the job conditions, wages, and benefits will get better is if the employees have leverage via collective bargaining. one person against the entire establishment will not work.

    card check neutrality is far more democratic than so-called "secret ballots" – all card check neutrality means is that once a certain number of signatures are gathered, workers are allowed to unionize.

    http://www.campusprogress.org/tools/1496/crib-sheet-the-employee-free-choice-act

    SLAP DOES NOT NEED TO APOLOGIZE TO ANYONE!

    I, too, am a student and thus a member of this community and i support SLAP and i support any measure that makes it easier for workers to collectively bargain together, If Swarthmore College wants to become a partner in this venture; it needs to assert its weight as an elite, socially responsible, NON profit institution in bargaining the terms of the contract for this Inn. SLAP is right, once the contract is signed, the day-to-day management will be turned over the the private company, Goldberg or w.e., and so the College needs to be upfront about these types of things now.

    PS I'm an econ major too, we're not all miserable people, FYI! THANKS SLAP! xx

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  18. skeptical

    February 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I know the assumptions and I wasn't trying to cover them up. If anyone has insights on the economics of unions, I'm curious to hear how a small inn outside a major American city could run the danger of being a monopsonist in the low wage labor market. This isn't a factory town or the Grapes of Wrath we're talking about.

    But this issue isn't about economic equilibria, it's about the unionizing process. If workers want to unionize and they have thought about it carefully, of course they should. No one is arguing against that. I just wonder if card check is the best way to facilitate that process.

    If the anonymous voting protocols are broken, they should be fixed. But right now I don't see card check as an improvement. Sure, it's streamlined, but at what cost? First, there's the inevitable upward creep of petitions, which I'm not sure reflects reasoned debate and consideration. Second and more importantly, once workers lose the right of voter anonymity, what's to stop their card votes from simply being bought with cash or threats of violence/firing (think Coase theorem, econ majors out there) by the employer or labor activists on each side of the unionizing debate? It just seems dangerous to me, and it seems like the potential for corruption is much higher than in the anonymous vote process.

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  19. reason

    February 26, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Dear Skeptical,

    Do you really think NLRB elections protect worker anonymity?

    I encourage you to please do more research and critical thinking about this issue of majority sign-up/card-check neutrality vs. NLRB if you are going to comment so much about it.

    After thoughtful deliberation, there is little doubt in my mind that card-check is hands-down the more democratic process to forming a union. There is a disgustingly excessive amount of coercion and worker intimidation by employers in unfair NLRB elections who care most about profit.

    Thankfully, workers do have the right to unionize. They should also have the freedom to choose which process to use for forming that union.

    Please do your homework.

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  20. skeptical of skeptical

    February 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    skeptical, you are the one that brought economics in to this debate by stating "The main economic argument against unionization is that it forces people into unemployment." Your statement is simply not always the case.

    Plus, you should know your Coase. 'Bribes' – or "buying votes with cash" is not considered coercion under Coase's theorem – it's actually the heart of "bargaining"!- because people will only accept 'bribes' for their signature if the utility of receiving the money outweighs the utility of withholding the signature; hence the employee is better off after accepting the 'bribe' than he was before.

    Finally, don't you know that the proposed "Inn" is not being proposed my some small, mom-and-pop establishment; but rather a very large private equity-backed developer who owns similar properties across the nation. Read up on it a bit:

    http://www.goldenberggroup.com/about_us.cfm

    No this isn't "Grapes of Wrath we're talking about", but it isn't exactly the case of Adam Smith's idyllic "small inn" we're talked about, either.

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  21. skeptical

    February 28, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Sorry, too busy to respond to everything. But here I go fast:

    1) "The main economic argument against unionization is that it forces people into unemployment." Your statement is simply not always the case." That's why I used the word "main". It's still the main argument and I think it's widely applicable. Yes, it's not appropriate in all cases (monopsony, especially)but it's an argument workers should be able to hear if it could mean losing their job. They shouldn't be tricked into thinking that unionizing is always good for workers.

    2) Coase. The point I was trying to make is that once rights to an action are clearly defined (i.e. when voting is not anonymous), Coase suggests that those rights can be bought. I wasn't talking about allocating those rights to the highest valued user, which, yes, is where Coase does go with the theory. Coase bargains only "work" with low transaction costs and good legal institutions. But they can be morally fuzzy. Threatening to break someone's legs to make them vote a certain way isn't a good thing. Sure, maybe the worker is happier not getting their legs broken, but I think even the most coldhearted economists would agree that such a bargain is unjust. Also, certain things in society are "inalienable," which means we aren't be allowed to sell them for moral reasons (i.e. babies, organs, votes, etc.) even if there is a willing buyer and willing seller.

    That's it for now, gotta go…

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  22. Stephan Hoyer

    March 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I just wanted to say that I'm really glad that Swarthmore labor activism (and SLAP!) is alive and going strong after organization issues last year.

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