Justice for Hyatt Workers

July 3, 2013

hyatt pic

July 3, 2013

By Rabbi Ali Abrams

Director of Organizing

This week, UNITE HERE announced a tentative agreement between Hyatt workers and Hyatt Corporation that would increase workers’ wages and improve benefits. The agreement covers workers in four U.S. cities-including Chicago- through 2018.

For four long years, Hyatt workers in Chicago and across the nation have been organizing with UNITE-HERE, the union of hospitality workers in the U.S. and Canada, for better working conditions and dignity at their jobs.  Hyatt had mistreated housekeepers and other hotel workers, replaced longtime employees with minimum wage temporary workers and imposed dangerous workloads on those who remained.  In August 2010 JCUA Founder Rabbi Robert Marx and more than 250 other Jewish leaders nationwide signed a pledge to support the Hyatt workers. Several members of the Jewish community, including JCUA, have stood with the Hyatt workers over time.  Our Or Tzedek teens have interned with UNITE-HERE and have met with workers to learn about working conditions and the power of organizing.  Through delegations to Hyatt management, interfaith services, and rallies, we have helped to broadcast that treating workers unjustly is an affront to Jewish values.

On July 23, 2012 workers declared a global boycott as a way to put pressure on the Hyatt Corporation to change its ways.  Through the courageous efforts of these workers- with support from the broader community- UNITE HERE and Hyatt were able to come to a tentative agreement yesterday. Once ratified, the agreement will provide back wages to workers beginning from 2009 and an increase in wages through 2018.  (For more details the agreement, click here).

As multi-national corporations gain more power and the income gap widens, workers have to fight harder than ever for fair contracts, good working conditions, and the right to organize.  The Hyatt boycott teaches us something very important:  Boycotts are one of the most powerful tools workers have to influence employers.  Workers rely on the support of consumers to have an impact.  Like a strike or picket line, boycotts become necessary when employers refuse to respond to attempts at creating change in the workplace.  As allies who value justice and the fair treatment of workers, it is our obligation to uphold a boycott in the same way we would respect a picket line.

Jewish tradition conveys a clear respect for work and workers and places great emphasis on employer-employee relationships that are grounded in the recognition of every person’s dignity and worth.  At JCUA, we celebrate this important victory for worker justice and are proud to stand in solidarity with workers in our city.



Postville Remembrance Day – May 10

April 24, 2013


JCUA marches in solidarity with the people of Postville, Iowa, 2008.

JCUA marches in solidarity with the people of Postville, Iowa, 2008.  » See more photos

On Friday, May 10, 2013 a gathering commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid will take place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The purpose of the event is to remember the 389 persons who were arrested on May 12, 2008, to reconcile with those who contributed to the injustices, and to advocate for the reform of immigration policies.  JCUA was very involved in the efforts five years ago and we continue to be committed to worker and immigrant justice.

The event will begin at noon with a remembrance ritual in front of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, 111 7th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids.

A “Walk for Justice” will follow at approximately 12:20 p.m. to Immaculate Conception Church, 857 3rd Ave. SE.  Here an interfaith prayer for reconciliation and a call for reform of our immigration policies will take place around 1:00 p.m. The assembly is being planned by a wide coalition of those involved in the response to the raid as well as those affected.  It will include immigrants who were part of the 2008 raid, church representatives who ministered to the immigrants and their families, lawyers who saw the injustice of the system, as well as others who are concerned about immigration reform.

The remembrance ritual is being held in front of the federal courthouse because of the court’s role in the raid and its significance to the ongoing national conversation about immigration.  Postville was one of the largest raids in American history and it devastated families and ripped an entire community apart.  We now must move forward to make sure Congress takes the necessary action to reform our immigration system—making sure we provide a path to citizenship, protect workers and end raids.

More information is at www.lirs/postville-anniversary.


If you are interested in going to Cedar Rapids with JCUA, please contact Rabbi Ali Abrams at alison@jcua.org.


Guest Op-Ed: JCUA Teen Leader on the CTU Strike

September 13, 2012

by Sophie Leff

Sophie Leff (left) at a JCUA event

The following is an op-ed piece by Sophie Leff, a junior at Northside College Prep. Sophie did Or Tzedek’s Activism and Community Organizing  summer program in 2011 and Advanced Activism in 2012. She was a part of the leadership team who planned Or Tzedek’s first Winter Leadership Retreat in 2011. Sophie is currently the Social Action Vice President of Beth Emet Synagogue Senior Youth.

Sophie writes: “I do not prioritize national standardization. I prioritize safe physical and emotional learning environments; modern, relevant and challenging curricula; abundant and up-to-date instructional materials; and above all, good teachers. This isn’t a message only for CPS, it’s for the State of Illinois. Its negligent school funding (based on property taxes) provides the least amount of resources for those who need it most, and it’s a message for the nation as a whole.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Workers’ Rights Examined in Jewish-Muslim Text Study

May 9, 2012

Reflections on Our Text Study on Workers’ Rights


Just before May Day, the traditional celebration of workers’ rights, we came together to explore what Jewish and Muslim traditions contribute to the current discussion on labor.

Sponsored by JCUA’s Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative, this text study featured Rabbi Victor Mirelman and Muslim chaplain Abbas Chinoy who facilitated the event on a rainy Sunday evening in the comfortable Dollop Café in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.

The need to contemplate labor issues has gained urgency around the Midwest. In Wisconsin, only a few months ago Gov. Scott Walker made it almost impossible for public employees to organize; and in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also changing the city’s relationship with its employees. It wasn’t even a month ago that Gov. Walker repealed the Equal Pay Enforcement Act that had offered legal avenues to fight wage discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion and sexual orientation.

Muslim chaplain Abbas Chinoy (at top, in photo at left); and Rabbi Victor Mirelman (in center of photo at right).

The evening began with this question: How have worker rights (or lack thereof) influenced peoples’ lives?

While one participant had very positive experiences with her union, another expressed her disappointment with the union of which she had been a member; she said she had been neither well informed or well cared for.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chew by Choice: The Postville Raid and Magen Tzedek

June 15, 2011

Gadi Capela

By Gadi Capela
JCUA Rabbinic Fellow

On May 12, 2008, the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided AgriProcessors Inc., the kosher slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa.  Nearly 400 undocumented immigrant workers, mostly from Mexico and Guatemala, were arrested in what became the largest raid of a workplace in U.S. history until then.

Most of those who were arrested were convicted for document fraud and identity theft. Correspondingly, several AgriProcessors employees and managers were convicted for conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants.

But there was more.

AgriProcessors Inc. (photo: The Gazette)

AgriProcessors was  paying substandard wages and offering minimal safety instruction and health care to its 800 employees, and was hurting the animals and the environment. As a result, the Conservative movement reacted with a new initiative called Magen Tzedek.

By invoking the verse from Deuteronomy, “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger,” Rabbi Morris Allen advocated for an ethical certification for kosher food in addition to the current kosher slaughtering certification.

Magen Tzedek was founded on the principle that we are what we eat. It is an ethical seal signifying that kosher food has been prepared with the highest standard of integrity and care, including employee wages and benefits, health and safety, animal welfare, corporate transparency and environmental impact.

Magen Tzedek demonstrates that ritual and ethical commandments have an equal place at our tables.

To learn more about Magen Tzedek, join us for lunch with Gadi Capela on Tuesday, July 5 at noon at the JCUA office, 610 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500. The event is free, but you need to RSVP on our website.

“Venceremos”: JCUA “Together in the Struggle” with Chicago Street Vendors

April 7, 2011

By Holly Krig
Community Initiatives Organizer, JCUA

This morning members of the Street Vendors Association (AVA, La Asociación de Vendedores Ambulantes), with the help of JCUA, organized a protest outside the municipal courts, 400 W Superior, to raise their voices against ongoing harassment by Chicago police officers.

Chicago street vendors protest police harassment

The vendors, who sell freshly-prepared ethnic foods, are predominately low-income immigrant Latino women challenged by balancing several low-wage/day labor jobs and hectic childcare schedules.

Under a Chicago peddling ordinance that prohibits the selling of cut or prepared foods, vendors face fines between $50 and $200, which are a large percentage of their average yearly income of $6,000 to $10,000.

In addition to the fines, many vendors have had their food tossed out by police who threaten to call immigration and ask to see their “papers.”

JCUA has been working with AVA for about a year and a half now on the group’s long-term vision of winning a comprehensive ordinance from the city that will protect the right of vendors to sell ethnic food.

The group is also pushing for a kitchen cooperative where vendors can come together to learn about their rights and health and safety regulations. Another goal of the group is to continue to organize in support of other vendors and immigrant workers across the country.

Last week the street vendors organized a march down 26th Street in protest of the recent increase in fines and food tossing.

The march was organized shortly after 56-year-old street vendor, Alicia Alarcon, was shot and wounded by a stray bullet while selling elotes in her Little Village neighborhood—a business she started after losing her job as a factory worker.

Learn more about JCUA’s worker justice work

Faith, Social Justice and Wisconsin

March 14, 2011

[This article was originally posted on Jewcy.com]

By Asaf Bar-Tura
Coordinator, Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative

Even in the 21st century, it seems we can still hear the prophetic calls of Jeremiah and Isaiah, of Hillel and Maimonides. We hear their cries for justice echoing these days in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, as we do every day in devastated communities across the nation’s cities. The challenges are great: an economic crisis that persists with as much endurance as our pursuit to counter it; workers’ rights to safety and protection being questioned; foreclosures that board up not only homes but people.

We struggle. The challenges are great, our opponents strong, and those who still believe that justice matters seek a powerful response. The task is not only to help this or that needy individual. We aim to change long-standing systems of oppression, and to strengthen those healthy systems that were accomplished by previous generations. We don’t want to settle for winning this time around. Rather, we want to change the rules of the game. We want justice, not charity. Respect, not mercy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Faith Leaders Hold Service for Hotel Workers in Front of Hyatt Regency

November 8, 2010

CHICAGO– Faith-based groups from across the city, including JCUA, gathered Thursday, Nov. 4 in front of the Hyatt Regency to rally support for UNITE HERE Local 1 hotel workers who have been protesting the Hyatt’s unfair labor practices.

Faith leaders stand in support of Hyatt workers

In August 2010 JCUA Founder Rabbi Robert Marx and more than 250 other Jewish leaders nationwide signed a pledge to support the Hyatt workers who’ve been dealing with pay, hour and job cuts, and excessive injury rates.

“It is our honor to stand in solidarity with the workers of Hyatt and Hilton against injustice,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, leader of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation, at the interfaith service Nov. 4. [Read more in UNITE HERE news release]

Here’s a glimpse of what happened at the event.

Learn more at justiceathyatt.org.


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