Thursday, September 2, 2010

Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

In this post last February, I traced the hypocrisy of the Episcopal Church (USA) in espousing, in resolution after resolution adopted by General Convention, the rights of union workers to negotiate with employers for a fair wage -- only to contrast those pious resolutions with the actions of Church headquarters at 815 Second Avenue in New York, which summarily terminated the contract of its unionized building cleaning staff, in order to cut back on costs. It hired instead a cleaning contractor who employed only non-unionized workers.

Well, in the course of doing extensive research for my current series on ECUSA and its out-of-control litigation costs, I came across more documentation of the background behind this hypocritical, and seemingly out-of-the-blue, move to cut costs. It turns out that it was not such a snap decision by management at 815, after all. Instead, the foundation for the cutback was well-studied and deliberate, and began with this resolution adopted by the Executive Council of the Church at its June 2008 meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico:
A&F 067 – Adopted
TO: The Executive Council
FROM: The Standing Committee on Administration & Finance
DATE: June 13, 2008
RE: Analysis of building operating costs at the Church Center and a strategy regarding related agencies and organizations

Resolved, That a Task Force of Executive Council members be appointed by the Presiding Officers to undertake an analysis of building operating costs at the Episcopal Church Center and to recommend a cost sharing strategy for the agencies and organizations related to the Episcopal Church housed within the Episcopal Church Center. The efforts of the Task Force will be supported by appropriate staff members identified by the Chief Operating Officer; and be it further

Resolved, That said Task Force will report its analysis and make recommendations to the October, 2008 meeting of Executive Council.
The minutes of the Council's next meeting in Helena, Montana, in October 2008, do not reflect any report given to it by this task force, but as we shall see, its work was under way as part of a different task force, which was assigned to review how to share 815's maintenance costs among its tenants. At the same time, the Council was occupied with several "social justice" concerns for workers. It adopted a resolution providing for the continued operation of a task force studying employment practices and policies within the Episcopal Church (USA); another one directing that a church pension be provided to lay workers, and not just clergy; another one commending the Presiding Bishop for convening a "summit on domestic poverty"; and also this resolution, adding a stipulation to the Church's contracts with hotels providing facilities for General Convention:
NAC 041 – Adopted
TO: The Executive Council
FROM: The Standing Committee on National Concerns
RE: Unionized Hotels
DATE: October 21, 2008

Resolved, That the Executive Council directs that the following addenda be included in contracts with hotels made by the General Convention Office:

LABOR DISPUTES: The Hotel agrees to notify DFMS in writing within 10 days after it becomes aware of any labor relations disputes involving the Hotel and its employees including, but not limited to, union picketing, the filing of an unfair Labor practice charge by a union, the expiration of a negotiated labor contract, an existing or impending strike or lockout or any other matter which could reasonably be construed as a labor- management dispute.

DFMS is committed to fair labor practices and the provision of healthcare coverage to all eligible employees. Hotel represents and warrants that it is committed to the fair treatment of its employees and that it is in compliance, to the extent applicable, with the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and all federal, state, local and other laws governing its dealings with its employees.


Resolution D047: Justice, Respect and a Living Wage passed at General Convention 2006 in Columbus, Ohio commits the Episcopal Church in its official meetings to use Union hotels.
The logistics of General Convention often prevent meetings from being planned in the cities within which an adequate number of Union hotel rooms might be available. When they are available, the limited budgets of meetings can at times be a relevant factor.

. . .

In an attempt to be faithful to the intent of the resolution passed by the General Convention and in conversation with the Office of the General Convention the above practices have been identified to work towards compliance with this resolution and others that support the rights of low-wage workers to a living wage and work with dignity.

While we support all attempts to comply with D047 by identifying municipalities and hotels that comply with D047, when that is not possible, the above addenda should be attached to all contracts with hotels made on behalf of the General Convention Office.
A year passed after the adoption of this resolution, and the Executive Council was holding its fall meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. The task force to allocate building maintenance costs among all tenants at 815 Second Avenue had reported earlier on its success in negotiating sharing provisions, and now the management at 815 was in the midst of severe cutbacks and personnel layoffs in order to slash expenses further. At the same time, the Council saw fit to adopt this resolution specifically aimed at the Hyatt Hotels chain:
A&N 001
TO: Executive Council
FROM: Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking
DATE: October 8, 2009
RE: Hyatt Hotel Chain

Resolved, That the Executive Council, meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, October 5-8, directs the Executive Officers of General Convention and the Office of General Convention to refrain from using the Hyatt hotel chain for General Convention and its related bodies and staff, until housekeeping staff summarily fired from its Massachusetts hotels and replaced by contract workers are offered the opportunity to be restored to their original employment and work conditions and provided with back pay for time missed due to their fall 2009 layoffs; and be it further

Resolved, That the Executive Council expresses its support for these long-term employees and their efforts to return to their work positions; and be it further

Resolved, That Council directs the Executive Officers to notify Hyatt of this decision; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Committee on Advocacy and Networking for Mission request the General Convention Office to monitor the development of negotiations between Hyatt and the affected housekeeping staff and report to the Committee at the February 2010 meeting of Executive Council.


Three Hyatt hotels in Boston and Cambridge fired 98 veteran housekeeping staff on 31 August 2009 with less than a day’s notice.

These staff, who had received a livable wage and health benefits for as long as twenty years, were replaced overnight by outsourced workers being paid minimum wage without benefits.

The General Convention deputation of the Diocese of Massachusetts, lay, clerical, and episcopal, asks unanimously that General Convention and its related bodies boycott Hyatt hotels until this injustice is rectified. This boycott would be consistent with the Church’s faithful witness to economic justice and fair treatment for all workers.
Consistent with "the Church’s faithful witness to economic justice and fair treatment for all workers," management at 815 took the following action on not even 24 hours' notice, at the end of the year:
Crew of 9 at Episcopal Church Center abruptly fired; now they need a miracle

They worked for years cleaning and maintaining the Episcopal Church Center in midtown Manhattan. But after they were fired on Dec. 30, nine hard-working people are in desperate need of divine intervention.

"We came to work on Dec. 30 as every day, hoping to leave a little earlier to celebrate the new year," said Bronx native H├ęctor Miranda, a father of three. "But when we got to the building we were told that we no longer worked there. Just like that. They picked the date well to fire us."

Now, without the means to support his family, Miranda has no idea how he will pay the rent.

"Even worse," he said, "without health coverage I don't know how I am going to pay for my wife's treatment. She is a diabetic, you know."

The workers lost their jobs - which paid standard wages and benefits - when the church canceled the contract with Paris Maintenance, a union cleaning contractor, and replaced it with the nonunion Benjamin Enterprises.

The workers belong to SEIU Local 32BJ, which is helping them organize demonstrations outside the church to protest what the union calls "the unlawful termination" of the porters - and to demand that they be offered jobs by the new contractor.

"We have called Benjamin Enterprises and asked to keep our jobs, but we haven't received any response," the workers said in a letter addressed to presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and to Bonnie Anderson, president of the church's house of deputies.

"We believe that the Episcopal Church would not want to create more poverty in this world, so we are hopeful that the church will do everything in its power to help us regain our jobs," the letter said. It was signed by, among others, Max Fullner and Raymond Hines, who worked at the church for 42 years; Ives Jean Pierre, 39 years, and Ahmed Alsaidy, 27 years. The way they were just suddenly terminated after all those years of service speaks volumes to the injustice done to them.

Last Thursday, more than 100 people gathered in front of the church to support the workers and ask church officials to help them get their jobs back.

"They [church officials] just looked out the windows," said Colombian-born Andrea Saavedra, 32, who worked at the church building for two years and 16 for Paris Maintenance.
And at the next Executive Council meeting in February 2010, 815's Chief Operating Officer, the Hon. Linda Watt, offered the following abbreviated explanation for management's conduct, despite all the high-minded resolutions that had previously been enacted both by General Convention and by the Executive Council (italics added):
[Linda Watt] informed Council that the cleaning contract for 815 Second Avenue had been re-bid and a new contract awarded to Benjamin Enterprises. She reported on union activity outside the building and referred to a misleading editorial in [a] New York tabloid. She expected the contract to be discussed in a joint meeting of the Standing Committee on Government & Administration [GAM] and the Standing Committee on Advocacy & Networking [A&N].
And that was it. Not a peep has been heard from the Executive Council since -- no demands that 815 be boycotted until it rehired all its union workers; no demands that the Honorable Ms. Watt be terminated instead. When last checked, the Council was still in the counting-house, counting out its money.

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