Here in New England autumn starts early, and on this late August morning the weather was especially chilly. Nonetheless, approximately 65 union members and supporters found their way to the picket planned here in Harvard Square at the Sheraton Commander Hotel on August 20th.
The action was organized by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO in protest of an anti-union event being held at the hotel. The event, a day-long seminar organized by an outfit calling itself, “HR Heroes,” was sponsored by M. Lee Smith Publishers, LLC, and charged a $500 registration fee for employers and Human Resource Directors wanting to learn how to keep their workplaces union-free.
The seminar itself was titled, “Labor Union Avoidance Master Class: Countering Labor’s Aggressive New Organizing Agenda,” and featured prominent anti-labor attorneys as guest speakers. Some of the workshops included, “Development of a Union-Free Philosophy,” “6 Ways to Get Employees to Vote No,” and “How to Spot Employees Most Susceptible to Organizing.”
Expecting to arrive undisturbed for their morning back-slapping and chumming over event-sponsored breakfast, the managerial urchins in attendance were instead greeted by the throng of angry picketers. Booing, hissing, and chanting, the picketers let it be known that, as far as they were concerned, the war on unions being planned inside the hotel would not be a one-sided fight.
Several times hotel representatives came out to angrily inform the picketers that they were disturbing the posh hotel’s guests, to which the picketers called back, “Good! They’re disturbing our right to organize!” It wasn’t soon after that the Cambridge Police showed up to monitor the protest. One of the particularly well-dressed picket organizers wearily said, “Officer, I’ve lived in Cambridge my whole life and I’ve never been arrested,” while another, boisterous union member jokingly called back, “Brother, there’s a first time for everything!”, though nothing further ensued.
While there were several unions represented at the picket, it was unfortunate that there wasn’t more representation from any of the unions at Harvard University – the third biggest employer in the state of Massachusetts. None of the leaders or officials from my union, the 5,000-member strong Harvard clerical workers’ union, came to the picket, though our union office is a mere 10 blocks from the Sheraton Commander.
If labor is to defend itself in a worsening economy, in which employers are gearing up for major attacks on our right to organize, cross-union solidarity and mobilization will be critical.
Actions such as the AFL sponsored picket that happened here at the Sheraton are important to the future of labor. But these also should be soberly viewed as just a small sample of what will be needed to reverse labor’s decline.
KEITH ROSENTHAL works at Harvard and is a member of HUCTW/AFSCME Local 3650. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org