275 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001-6708
30,000 workers at 76 airports
100,000 casino workers
Over 100,000 hotel workers in more than 900 hotels
90,000 food service workers
International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
International Transport Workers Federation (ITF)
UNITE HERE is governed by four elected General Officers and an elected General Executive Board with representation from across the union.
The decision-making governing bodies of the union between Conventions are the Executive Committee and the General Executive Board. The Committee and Board are composed of a voting majority who are elected locally and regionally throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The UNITE HERE constitution includes strong guarantees of local and joint board autonomy, including a statement that no local or joint board can be forced to merge with another affiliate unless the members of each of the merging affiliates vote separately in favor of the merger.
- Food Service
- Textile, Laundry, Manufacturing, and Distribution
UNITE HERE’s General Officers were elected on June 30, 2009, at the Union’s first constitutional convention. They are:
D. Taylor, General Vice President
Taylor is the leader of UNITE HERE’s largest affiliate, Local 226 in Las Vegas (also called the Culinary Workers’ Union). Representing 60,000 workers, Local 226 is widely recognized for leading the transformation of hospitality industry jobs from low-wage, insecure work to stable, middle-class occupations. The housekeepers, restaurant workers, beverage service workers and bell staff who make up the membership of Local 226 are also recognized as a powerful political force in Nevada and national politics.
Taylor served as Staff Director of UNITE HERE Local 226 from 1990 to 2002 and Secretary-Treasurer since 2002, and as General Vice President of UNITE HERE since 2009. Upon his election as UNITE HERE’s President, he pledged to develop leadership among young people and people of color and to expand the success of the union in Las Vegas to hospitality workers elsewhere.
Sherri Chiesa, Secretary-Treasurer
Peter Ward, Recording Secretary
Tho Thi Do, General Vice President for Immigration, Civil Rights, and Diversity
*Only a bio for the president has been posted by UNITE HERE at this time.
Thus far, the union’s involvement in environmental policies and initiatives has been limited. UNITE HERE is part of the CERES coalition, a group that fundamentally believes in the promotion of sustainability “by moving companies, policy makers and other market players to incorporate environmental and social factors into their decision-making and to mobilize investor and business leadership to build a thriving, sustainable global economy.“
Within CERES, UNITE HERE was previously part of the Investor Network on Climate Risk and signed on to an action plan that involved the following key components circa 2008:
- ·Request corporate disclosure of financial risks from climate change
- ·Require investment managers to assess climate risk in portfolios
- ·Factor carbon costs into valuations & investment analysis
- ·Invest in low-carbon tech -> $10B
- ·Improve energy performance of real estate portfolios & investments
- ·Support call for government action on climate policy and energy efficiency
In February 2009, UNITE HERE also joined CERES and the Investor Network for Climate Risk in signing on to a letter to Obama. The letter states that strong energy and climate action is “essential” for long-term economic prosperity and that the costs of inaction could be “economically debilitating.” However, UNITE HERE is no longer a member of the Investor Network for Climate Risk and has been a fairly inactive member of CERES as a whole.
Few of UNITE HERE’s original campaigns mention sustainability, renewable energy, or the environment. However, the creation of UNITE HERE’s newest campaign, Real Food Real Jobs actively embraces sustainability. The campaign prioritizes both worker safety and sustainability: “our Real Food and Real Jobs campaign argues that food workers need to be part of the conversation about reforming our food system, and universities present an opportunity to develop a real sustainable food model that could be emulated by other institutions.” To extrapolate, the campaign website explains that “the move towards a sustainable food model at campus provides an opportunity to reverse the long drive to deskill and devalue the craft of cooking by food workers, many of whom have been trained at culinary schools or have years of valuable cooking experience.”
“Real Food and Real Jobs” has made some notable gains. At Yale University, for example, the members of the Local 35 helped advocate for what is now one of the leading models of sustainable food in higher education.
According to Chris Bohner, the former director of the campaign, “real food is food that is cooked from fresh ingredients rather than processed items, is sourced locally and ethically, and utilizes production methods that are humane and respect our environment. Real jobs are jobs that pay a living wage (with health and retirement benefits), that allow workers to disclose food safety or quality issues, and to form a union through a legal and democratic process of their own choosing without threats and intimidation.” The direct connection between the two concepts (i.e.jobs and sustainability) is promising in terms of UNITE HERE’s ability to understand linkages between labor and environment.
Green Employment Prospects
Unions like UNITE HERE in the tourism industry are likely to be affected in the short to medium term as increases in energy and transportation costs alter tourist behavior. The increase in energy costs in 2008 was harbinger of more permanent changes to come. Already the hotel industry is taking steps to “green” its operations through new energy efficiency programs. Hurricane Katrina devastated the tourist industry and unions in New Orleans. But to date, UNITE HERE has not developed positions on climate change.
UNTE HERE has a lot to lose regarding climate. Vegas may not be able to continue past mid-century due to lack of water and desertification. UNITE HERE strength is in coastal cities lies in the very cities that both rely on tourism and are most vulnerable to climate change (NYC, SF, Miami, N.O., etc.).
Appendix 1: Real Food, Real Jobs: An Interview with Chris Bohner
By Sheldon Yoder
Name: Chris Bohner
Affiliation: [Former] Director, UNITE HERE’s Sustainable Food Project
Bio: Chris Bohner has been a labor activist for 15 years, organizing workers in a wide range of industries, including food service, hotels, and casinos. He is also a passionate cook, gardener, and amateur food pickler. A few years ago, he started reading Michael Pollan and other food writers and realized that he was quite ignorant about where his food came from, how it was produced, and the health and environmental implications of our food system. He found it ironic that while calling attention to the deplorable working conditions of hospitality workers, he was not doing the same when it came to his food and those who prepare it. He didn’t see a way to marry his interest in food politics with labor activism until the president of UNITE HERE, John Wilhelm, pointed out that the Union had been active in a number of campaigns to connect worker justice with sustainable food. At Yale University, for example, the members of the Local 35—a union organized by UNITE HERE—played an important role in pushing the university to adopt what is now one of the leading models of sustainable food in higher education. By organizing students, farmers, workers, and other concerned individuals, the Sustainable Food Project hopes to improve working standards for food service employees and access to healthy, sustainable food for all.
Location: Washington D.C. and nationwide
What are the goals of the Sustainable Food Project and how do you go about accomplishing them?
Our goals are similar to others working to create a sustainable food system. For example, the Real Food Challenge, an amazing national group of students changing food at universities, defines real food as “food which truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system—from seed to plate—that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice, and environmental sustainability.” Our long-term goal is to make that vision a reality.
The only way to do this is to make new connections at the grassroots level with diverse communities who don’t normally work with each other but have a shared goal of changing the food system. Students, farmers, workers, and many others are all getting squeezed by the same constellation of powerful food (and financial) corporations. If we stay divided, it’s hard to imagine how this system will change. So creating spaces for diverse communities to find common ground is a key way to accomplish our goals, and that’s what we are doing.
A lot of your work has centered on food service workers in universities around the country. Why have you chosen to focus on universities?
The higher education sector spent $19 billion on food service in 2010, so it has a large food footprint and impact on the food system and workers. In my view, higher education represents the potential and perils of the politics of sustainability. On the one hand, many institutions are embracing the rhetoric of sustainability, and some are making real progress towards sourcing food locally and incorporating environmental and social criteria into the food procurement process. We support those initiatives.
On the other hand, the vast majority of campus food workers are working in poverty. There’s a real contradiction between the rhetoric of sustainability used by many universities and the treatment of workers on campus. Our goal is to lift the standards of campus food workers so that the reality matches the rhetoric. As the largest union of food service workers (we represent members at over 100 campuses), we think we are well positioned to do that.
UNITE HERE says that it is working to transform the traditionally low-wage food service industry to an industry that provides affordable family health care, retirement security, and respect on the job. How does UNITE HERE work toward this goal?
Food service workers represented by unions earn 26 percent more than workers without a union, so we believe that the best path to improve working conditions is to incorporate more workers into the collective-bargaining process. Obviously, that was the path that built the middle-class in the U.S., which is now under widespread attack by employers. But we also support living-wage policies and efforts by worker organizations like the Restaurant Opportunities Center to improve working conditions through policy and litigation.
You mentioned in this PRNewswire story that “not only are food service workers among the lowest paid workers in America, but they also suffer food insecurity and diet-related illnesses at alarmingly high rates.” Is this a result of problems that are unique to the food service industry in the U.S. or problems that affect American workers in general?
The research is pretty definitive that income is highly correlated with food and health issues, so this is a problem that disproportionately affects all low-income workers. I think it is particularly acute for food workers not only because they rank at the bottom of the pay scale but also due to conditions that are unique to the food service industry. For example, we know that many food service companies are not consistently serving healthy food, yet many food workers typically eat some of their meals where they work. I recently heard a story about an airport that wouldn’t allow food workers to bring in their own food from home, so they had to eat from the airport concessions. Our union worked to get that policy changed, but it underscores the special challenges food service workers face.
The idea of food justice comes up often when talking about the issues that you are dealing with but many might be unfamiliar with the term. As you understand it, what does food justice for food service workers mean?
I think it means justice where food workers live and where they work. It means that food workers have sustainable jobs that allow them to access fresh and healthy food in their communities that is produced in a fair, humane, and environmentally responsible manner.
UNITE HERE just launched a new website –www.RealFoodRealJobs.org– that showcases the work it is doing for food service workers. What do you mean by “Real Food” and “Real Jobs”?
Real food is food that is cooked from fresh ingredients rather than processed items, is sourced locally and ethically, and utilizes production methods that are humane and respect our environment.
Real jobs are jobs that pay a living wage (with health and retirement benefits), that allow workers to disclose food safety or quality issues, and to form a union through a legal and democratic process of their own choosing without threats and intimidation.
What sort of changes for food service workers— at a local, regional, or national level—have you observed in your time working on the Sustainable Food Project?
The most important thing that has happened is the real connections made between college students and campus dining workers. We held a series of gatherings at a dozen universities to talk about food and work, and it was inspiring how quickly people from such diverse backgrounds found common ground. I think students were surprised how passionate workers are about changing a food system that forces them to serve processed food rather than food made from fresh ingredients, and how much pride they have when they can use their skills in the kitchen. Conversely, workers were surprised by how much support students expressed for their struggle to improve working conditions on campus. Making these types of connections is a powerful start to achieving the goal of sustainable food at U.S. colleges.
Sheldon Yoder is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.
Posted on November 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm.