by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Renowned activist Cleve Jones spoke in Seattle June 28 at an LGBT community forum sponsored by UNITE HERE Local 8, Allyship, Ingersoll Center, Pride At Work, and SGN.
Jones, a former Harvey Milk protégé, creator of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and co-chair of the 2009 National Equality March, now works for UNITE HERE - the hotel and restaurant workers' union.
Jones is the driving force behind the union's 'Sleep with the Right People' campaign, to get LGBT tourists and community organizations to patronize union hotels.
UNITE HERE Local 8 represents some 4,000 hospitality workers in this state, and is now bargaining new contracts with all its employers.
'It used to be,' Jones said, 'that hotels were owned by a local guy, or a family, and no matter how bad they were, at least they were somewhat accountable to their local communities.'
'Now,' he continued, 'hotels are all owned by giant multi-national corporations with no local ties and no loyalty to anybody.'
'You want to fight globalization?' Jones asked. 'My union is fighting globalization!'
Noting that UNITE HERE represents many LGBT workers - 'A Gay waiter!' Jones exclaimed. 'Imagine that!' - he said he was proud that his union had made such an effort to build solidarity with the LGBT community.
To illustrate his point, Jones told a story.
In 2006, UNITE HERE members in Toronto, Canada, voted to strike at seven hotels in their city. At exactly that time, the 16th International AIDS Conference was scheduled to begin in Toronto.
'You can't strike the AIDS Conference!' Jones says he told UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm.
'Why not?' Wilhelm asked.
Jones then explained that many conference delegates were traveling from remote places in Africa and Asia where they serve local populations with HIV/AIDS, and many were themselves living with the disease.
'Many of them won't cross a picket line, but if they can't get into their hotels, they'll just go home, and the conference will collapse,' Jones continued.
'This is a democratic union, I can't make the decision to call off the strike,' Wilhelm told him. 'We'll have to take it to the members.'
In what Jones describes as 'an amazing act of solidarity,' UNITE HERE members voted to postpone the strike until after the AIDS conference.
'We had members from every country,' Jones recalled. 'There were Somalis, there were Indians, there were Pakistanis, there were Russians. They said, 'We have AIDS in our own countries. We know this is important.'
'Then [after the AIDS conference] we went on to win on every demand,' Jones grinned.
In their 2007 Seattle Westin Hotel contract, UNITE HERE 8 won a groundbreaking victory by getting hotel management to agree to explicit protections for Transgender workers. It was the first hotel contract in the country to include that language.
Now, the union hopes to have Trans-inclusive language in all its contracts.
Jones told another story about briefing union president Wilhelm on Transgender issues.
One day, he said, Wilhelm asked him for an explanation of the Transgender community.
'What is this Transgender thing?' Jones quotes Wilhelm as asking.
Jones says he explained as well as he could, and Wilhelm nodded. Then the union president walked away.
Two weeks later, Wilhelm called Jones and said, 'Please list our union as being in support of complete Transgender inclusion.'
Jones was dumbfounded.
'I thought this was a conversation that would take months! Years!' Jones exclaimed.
Jones asked Wilhelm he had made his decision so quickly.
'Well aren't Transgender workers at risk of discrimination and firing - much more than other workers?' Wilhelm asked.
Jones said, 'Yes.'
'And aren't they targeted for harassment - even violence?' Wilhelm continued.
Jones agreed they are.
'So it's a workers' rights issue,' Wilhelm concluded. 'Well, I'm for that! We're all for that!'
UNITE HERE 8's Seattle venues include the Westin, the Hilton, and the Arctic Club, all in downtown Seattle, the Edgewater, on the waterfront, the Best Western Executive Inn and Loyal Inn, the Washington Athletic Club, and the Space Needle.
UNITE HERE 8 has called for an informational picket in front of the Westin Hotel, in downtown Seattle at 1900 5th Avenue, on July 7 at 3:30 p.m.
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