UUA President Joins International Human Rights Day Hearing on Immigrant Workers’ Rights
A panel of faith leaders including Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Peter Morales, Bishop Peter Weaver (representing the New England Conference, United Methodist Church), Rabbi Barbara Penzner (Temple Hillel B’nai Torah), along with Joshua Rubenstein (New England Director, Amnesty International USA) and Giovanna Negretti (representing Oiste), listened for ninety minutes on December 10, 2009, to testimony from a diverse group of immigrant workers who have suffered discrimination, wage theft, and unjust and often illegal firings. Over one hundred people gathered at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the Boston Common from the faith, labor, immigrant rights, and human rights communities to support the immigrant workers and their families.
The recent layoffs by three Boston-area Hyatt Hotels of one hundred housekeepers, many of whom had given twenty or more years of loyal service, have sparked growing outrage in Massachusetts and nationally. The UUA and Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations have joined an interfaith effort to support the “Hyatt 100,” calling for a boycott of the three Boston-based Hyatt hotels until the housekeepers are reinstated.
The workers and their advocates issued a call to action, asking for support on legislation that will provide day laborers and temporary workers with better protections on the job, establish paid sick days (40% of private sector workers do not have any sick time and the immigrant community is disproportionately impacted), and enforce wage compliance.
The faith leaders’ panel called on religious communities to stand in solidarity with immigrant workers and thanked the workers who testified for having the courage to come forward and tell their stories.
Rev. Morales spoke last and provided the closing reflection for the event. Offering thanks for those in attendance in Spanish and English, he said, “I am especially concerned as a leader in the faith community that we have allowed a moral environment to exist which allows this systemic exploitation and discrimination.” Morales issued a call for immigration reform and action, saying, “We need to seek out opportunities that will allow us to stand with people in solidarity. It is not enough to cry out in indignation. The Unitarian Universalist Association has communicated with the Hyatt Hotel Corporation. We have joined the boycott of the three [Hyatt] hotels in Massachusetts and are exploring options to not use the Hyatt at our annual assembly in Minneapolis. We are encouraging them to take action and we are applying economic pressure. We must respect one another’s humanity and stand together.”
Among those speaking at the forum were a Haitian immigrant who worked as a security guard and was dismissed for participating in an effort to organize a union. Before he was fired he was harassed with racist remarks, ridiculed for his accent, forced to do cleaning jobs not in his job description, and finally was transferred to a site that required three hours of commuting time.
A group of Latino/a workers represented 153 workers who were locked out of their jobs after being sent home for two days while the company supposedly fixed a broken boiler. Upon their return they were confronted with dozens of security guards and told they no longer had their jobs. One worker said, “No one from the company ever spoke to us and we still don’t know why we were fired.”
While many undocumented workers pay into Social Security, they are barred from almost all government benefits, including food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, federal housing programs, Supplemental Security Income, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and the earned income tax credit (EITC).