An Open Letter from UNITE HERE Allies and Supporters to Local 1 Leadership

Dear UNITE HERE Local 1,

We the undersigned are allies and supporters of UNITE HERE, in Chicago and elsewhere. We have all, at some point, committed our hearts, souls, and hours, as volunteer interns, boycott and research volunteers, and staff in the belief that UNITE HERE was a powerful force for justice for hospitality workers and workers everywhere. Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago is the exact opposite, however: it is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy.

Local 1’s campaign, “Rahm Love,” claims that the mayor “loves” workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago, from his attempt to destroy the standards of the Chicago Teachers Union, closing half the mental health clinics in the city, presiding over a higher unemployment rate among African Americans than other cities, and continuing to use TIFs as a city slush fund to benefit corporate wealth and the rich.

American cities are facing pitched battles. On one side, progressive candidates are advancing across the country and socialist electoral candidates are winning elections in major cities like Jackson, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., and marchers are blocking freeways and shutting down public spaces in protest of police violence; on the other side, gentrification displaces communities into desolate ring suburbs, and politicians race to give the biggest tax breaks to corporations. This is no different in Chicago, and there is a crucial question of all unions to be asked: which side are you on?

Taking the choice of struggle is dangerous and uncertain, but one an increasing number of unions, like the CTU, have taken. Local 1’s choice was clearly not made out of stupidity or ignorance. It is a calculated choice to prioritize opportunistic gains and favor in the halls of power over the road of struggle. This is an old strategy, and one that time and again has proved a failure in the long run. It is just like an organizing drive at a workplace: to some workers the boss offers raises, promotions and even some power while others are subject to firings, surveillance, and intimidation. Those the boss tries to buy off have a choice: do they stand with their coworkers for real power, or take the pittance they’re offered? UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen the table scraps, and thrown their fellow workers into the fire.

How could this choice have been made? It is telling that this letter does not include many current activists for the union. It is not that staff and volunteers throughout the union are not disgusted by Local 1’s behavior. Quite the contrary, there are many who agree with us, but they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs, of being squeezed out of work they’ve poured themselves into, or getting cornered into uncomfortable conversations ensuring at least their silence. What’s more, some think of themselves as committed to the broader movement but have bought into the destructive idea that no matter what, building their union is identical with building the movement and thus deny the destructive impacts of this opportunism. This anti-political and anti-democratic atmosphere is a dangerous omen for the state of rank-and-file democracy in UNITE HERE, and leads us to wonder what Local 1’s membership thinks of Rahm, their union’s behavior, and whether the union represents their interests.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

We hope this letter is heard by UNITE HERE Local 1 leadership, but more importantly we hope it is heard by union militants everywhere and the UNITE HERE rank and file. Do not stand cynically by as Local 1’s leadership follows the old losing playbook and betrays the entire movement. We can and must have a fighting, progressive labor movement, and we can and must beat Rahm.

In love and struggle,

Name Current City Local(s) Worked With
B. Norman Chicago IL Local 1, Rank and File
J. Allocca Boston Local 26
A. Barney Bay Area CA Local 8
M. Beshers Chicago IL Local 1
S. Bhatti Chicago IL Local 226
J. Blatz Local 1, Local 57
W. Bloom New Haven CT Local 1
R. Branson New York NY Local 23
L. Brennan Portland OR Local 1, Local 226, Local 8
L. Brown Las Vegas Local 226
M. Carrillo Seattle Local 8
G. Chacon Chicago IL Local 1
C. Chewning Philadelphia PA Local 54
K. Connor New York, NY New York Joint Board
I. Dalto Baltimore Local 7, Local 11
R. Day Baltimore MD Local 7
P. Degange Bay Area CA Local 2, Local 226
M. Ellmauer Washington DC Local 23
M. Espinoza Portland OR Local 8
S. Finkelstein Chicago IL Local 1
M. Floyd Bay Area CA Local 2
A. Fortunato Chicago IL Local 1
N. Gallagher Local 57
X. Gieryn Indianapolis IN Local 23
J. Goldberg New Haven CT Local 54, Local 226
O. Goldberg New York NY Local 355, International Union
S. Goldman Boston MA Local 1
F. Gomez Indianapolis IN Local 23
L. Green Chicago IL Local 1
S. Gutstein Chicago IL Local 1
K. Ho Chicago IL Local 1
B. Hofwolt Chicago IL Local 1
N. Husain Bay Area CA Local 2
A. Igoe Chicago IL Local 1
J.L. Jackson Buffalo NY Local 1
M. Johnson Chicago IL Local 1
C. Johnson Berkeley, CA Local 1
W. Kingston Lucerne Local 1
J. Landrith Chicago IL Local 1
E. Lennox San Diego, CA Local 30
Z. Lesher Washington DC Local 23
N. Lozada Chicago IL Local 1
Z. Lutz Chicago IL International Union
M. Lyons Philadelphia PA Local 54
L. Misumi Local 2
V. M. Moore Minneapolis MN Local 1
R. Munoz Chicago IL Internationa Union
S. Neylon Madison WI Local 226
G. Powell Chicago IL Local 134
C. Prendiville San Francisco CA International Union
C. Ramires-Rosa Chicago IL Local 1
F. Robinson Chicago
M. Schreiber-Stainthorp Chicago IL Local 1
J. Schuhrke Local 1
C. Seres Minneapolis MN Local 226
B. Smith Indianapolis IN Local 23
S. Stackhouse Portland Local 8
D. Stevens Albequerqeu NM Local 11
C. Stevenson Indianapolis IN Local 1, International Union
M. Stewart Chicago
J. Suh Los Angeles Local 2, Local 226
B. Thielen Racine WI International Union
S. Tynan Chicago IL Local 1, Leave Of Absense, rank and file
S. Vitale Detroit Local 24
J. Ward Sydney, Australia Local 5, Local 217, International Union
M. Weller Santa Cruz, CA Local 483
M. Whalen St Paul MN Local 17
N. Woodsum New York City New England Joint Board, International Union
V. Zukowski Chicago IL Local 1


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