Monday, July 17, 2006

The Jewish Denominations and Ethical Hotels

Recently, unite-here, the major hotel union, has developed a program called the Informed Meeting Exchange (inmex) which helps organizations who use hotels know more about the labor standards employed so that hotel reservers can make informed decisions as to whether they wish to use various hotels. inmex also helps folks negotiate contracts including provisions about labor peace. This program was quickly embraced by academic associations, religious organizations, charitable foundations, NGOs, unions, and even several business groups.

Leaders from the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements co-wrote an editorial in the Forward announcing their participation in the program. They deserve congratulations for their joining and much of the ethical rhetoric in their editorial:
We feel strongly that Inmex, an independent organization that provides objective information on working conditions within the hospitality industry, will help translate the values we espouse into the actions we pursue....

In recent years, we have all begun to look beyond pure logistics as we take the moral and ethical implications of our events and meetings into consideration. Have we made it financially feasible for all within our community to participate? Do we provide healthy food options? Should a share of the costs, or saved costs, be donated to charity?...

We grapple with these issues as we plan everything from local youth group events to national biennial conventions. Perhaps it is not feasible to address each one of these concerns adequately, but we must not be naive. Our choices and actions send messages as clearly as the words we speak from the pulpit, and it is the responsibility of our communities to engage with these issues seriously.

Towards the end of their piece they sway away from the clear compelling moral framework with a wimpy cop-out where they refuse to support the hotel workers union. this is after they talked extendedly about how important it was to make moral logistical decisions:

For us, this is not an issue of support for labor or management. Rather, we are committed to fair, constructive and sensitive treatment by each side toward one another. We believe that Inmex's goal of transparency helps move us in that direction.
This basically says "don't worry folks, we aren't supporting unions here". It's okay to say that supporting hotel unions is a moral choice. Some unions aren't always good the workers in the long term, most are, but not all. Unite-here is a very good union. They charge low dues, organize lots of workers, negotiate good contracts, and are corruptions free. unite-here is the result of the merger two unions, HERE was a hotel/restaurant workers union and UNITE a garment workers union. UNITE grew out of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The ILGWU was heavily Jewish and represented the workers in garment factories on the lower east side. I find it ironic that the Jewish community is unwilling to say supporting them is an ethical imperative.

Hey leader dudes, it's okay to take sides. In the case of justice, it's not okay not to.


At 7/17/2006 , Blogger Ari said...

Brother Zach,
Thanks as always for the beautiful posts. It does not necessarily seem like the editorial is wimping out. They are emphasizing that their focus is on the relationship between labor and management. Their point is that supporting this institution isn't about one party against the other, but about the two parties working together and treating eachother fairly. Doesn't justice come from the pursuit of truth and reconciliation?

The statement is, however, rather vague about what "fair, constructive, and sensitive treatment" means, and what their values are concerning the rights of workers. I think they have a responsbilitiy to state those values and positions more firmly and clearly. I have no issue with them refusing to take sides in the interest of reconciliation, but they should really be more explicit in terms of what they consider a just partnership, what is, "fair, constructive, and sensitive treatment."

I must close with a caveat that I do not have any experience with labor negotiations, so I must phrase my entire comment in the form of a question to you, Zach. Based on your experience, do you think that it is possible to clearly stake a moral ground on worker's rights without "taking sides," to affirm what that moral ground is and to affirm that both unions and management have a responsibility to pursue it together?

At 7/19/2006 , Blogger ZT said...

"Doesn't justice come from the pursuit of truth and reconciliation?"
brother ari, i can always count on you for a healthy reminder that where there are humans there are people created btzelem eloheim and that respect should always take the day.
My fear is that when workers aren't organized they are often manipulated by managers in minor ways that aren't significant enough to trigger a significant response at any point, small wage cuts, shift changes, benefit cuts, etc. It is a bit like the frog who will cook if the water is cool and you heat it up slowly. as workers we will often jump out of a scalding workplace but if the changes are subtle and slow it is hard. That is one of the many reasons i think everyone in a company should have a workers organization of some sort, to watch the temparature are make sure it doesn't go up a few degrees at a time.

i think you can support specific norms without necessarily taking sides.
if the editorial said something like
*we think workers should have the right to organize without forced meetings by managment and without other sorts of interferance.
*we will not use hotels which do not pay a living wage.
*we will not use hotels where workers don't get maple sick time and at least ten days of paid vacation annually.
*we will not use hotels where workers are brought from oversees and threatened with deportation.
*we will use hotels where workers are treated fairly, with respect, and in ways that enable them to feed their families.

that sort of statement would have won me over. as is, it seems like they said some vague, pleasant things which started down the right road but jumped off it before they made the right points.

Your point though ari, is well taken. in a world so partisan we can often lose track, i can often lose track, of the ways in which we can work better for a more just future.

At 7/19/2006 , Blogger Ari said...

Yes, these are the kinds of statements of unifying moral purpose I was thinking of. Thanks, brother, for the clarification.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home