workers at a Latham, N.Y., Holiday Inn Express wanted to
organize a union, they mistakenly thought the law would
protect their right to do so. They were mistaken.
workers in a Dominican garment shop wanted to organize a
union and protect their new, higher pay and standard of
living, they found that their future lay in educating buyers
in the United
States, particularly on college campuses.
the one case, the motel workers - eight of them - acted
on their understanding of U.S. labor law and told their
boss about a year-and-a-half ago that they were forming
a union. The organizers were promptly fired and the agony
of their long unemployment and fight for their jobs began.
the Village of Altagracia, Dominican Republic, about 120 workers, with the
support of the American company owner, began receiving three
times the minimum wage for their kind of work and began
to see a bright future for themselves and their children.
the union-made sports clothing at competitive prices in
campus stores, however, depends on getting out the word
that the workers who make the “Altagracia” label are benefiting
from a lower-profit philosophy of Knights Apparel, a Spartanburg,
S.C., company owned by Joseph Bozich.
of his own case of multiple sclerosis, the deaths of his
brother and a close friend, as well as the health problems
of a child caused him to rethink his life and to come up
with a plan to produce his clothing lines while providing
a living wage and encouraging unionization of his work force.
the workers and the 47-year-old Bozich are hopeful that
what appears to be their good fortune and an improved living
standard now will translate into a long-term benefits to
both the company and the workers, many of whom are now earning
some $500 a month, according to a July 19, 2010, story in
the New York Times.
do that, Knights Apparel needs to begin educating college
students and others about the vastly improved conditions
for workers at Altagracia, even though their $18 price tag
for a sports tee shirt will be selling at the same price
as other labels, which continue to be made under sweatshop
Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and similar groups around
the country are doing much of the education work. Their
work is vital to buyers’ making the conscious choice of
picking Altagracia label goods, rather than the sweatshop
such support exists for a small group of workers in Latham,
N.Y., where the owner of a motel, Jim
Morrell, simply fired workers who told him that they were
forming a union.
such an action is protected under U.S.
labor law and has been so protected for some 75 years. Anyone
who believes this is simply wrong.
took them many months to get a decision out of the National
Labor Relations Board in Albany (the
regional NLRB headquarters is in Buffalo),
finding that the unfair labor practice complaint of the
workers “had merit.” That is, the NLRB was prepared to go
forward with an investigation into the complaint of the
case was scheduled to be heard early this year, when Morrell
suddenly agreed to rehire the workers, to pay them back
wages - making them whole - and negotiate with the union.
that agreement between the two parties, Morrell called the
workers in for a meeting, which they believed would be to
set up a schedule for them to return to work, but they weren’t
prepared for yet another blow to their livelihoods. Management’s
announcement was that the company had changed hands, Morrell
was out of the picture, and the workers would have to apply
for jobs and be back to square one.
one of them knows when the NLRB will address the new problem.
The union, Workers United Local 471, has informed the new
owners of the Holiday Inn Express (HIX) that they are obliged
to negotiate with the workers and their union, but the company
has refused to obey the law.
is so often the case, justice delayed is justice denied
and the workers in Latham have been denied their day and
have been denied the justice of their win under the law.
talks. Jim Morrell is rich. The Holiday Inn Express workers
are at the bottom of the unionized wage scale and they need
their jobs. Morrell appears certain that he and the “new
owner” will prevail. All they have to do is wait out the
workers and they will likely go away.
owns many radio stations in New York’s
Capital District, he owns car dealerships and, of course,
the Holiday Inn Express. Also, he is
a big-time alumnus of nearby Siena College.
was angered by a picket line of the workers and many union
and community supporters at Siena earlier this year, when he sponsored a luncheon event. Recently,
he didn’t seem to be concerned when he drove through the
union-community picket line at the Holiday Inn Express.
Indeed, he seemed to be in good spirits, perhaps in the
confidence that his wealth will beat the workers who are
literally struggling to survive, even though they won their
NLRB case (albeit through a settlement).
there ever was a case that has proved how little respect
employers have for American labor law, it is the Morrell
case at HIX in Latham. Apparently, he is quite sure that
he will prevail because his money is overpowering.
him, there is no epiphany such as Bozich experienced. It
is uncertain that even that would change Morrell’s mind.
The workers who have suffered at the hands of Morrell have
asked for support from Morrell’s classmates and fellow alumni
at Siena, from
patrons of the Holiday Inn Express, from their fellow unionists
and community groups, as well as local politicians.
the workers have had broad support, Morrell and the alleged
new owner have not been moved. In an economy in which there
are five applicants for every job opening, the workers have
had difficulty in finding new work.
they and their many supporters are in front of the motel
every week for two hours, with a lively picket line, letting
motel patrons know what is happening inside. It is not known
what the effect has been, but Morrell seems to have made
the effort to appear now and then, to cross the picket line
and rub a little salt into the wounds he has created.
struggle for basic worker rights continues in the Capital
District of one of the most “progressive” states in the
nation. To hear the stories of the workers, one would think
that they were still in the 1930s. That’s how backward U.S. labor laws are. To a
great extent, the state laws are equally backward.
of the fired young women recently recounted how she is unable
to go to her doctor for a health condition she suffers because
she has no money for treatment. All of them have similar
stories of their need to get back to work, regardless of
at Altagracia are experiencing good fortune that they thought
they never would see, all because of the life-changing experience
of the owner of their company. Even though it is one small
bright light in a global economy that is full of sweatshop
has experienced no such thing and thinks only of his profits
and his power over everyone who works for him. The conditions
of a developing country exist in Latham,
N.Y., and in thousands of other workplaces
in America. Morrell could learn
a lesson from the Dominican
Republic’s Altagracia. Then, he could
pass it along to his alma mater - Siena, established as a Catholic college - where they offer peace studies
courses and are big on social justice issues.
need to talk to Morrell about the motel workers. Perhaps,
he missed one of those social justice courses in their economics
Columnist, John Funiciello,
is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union
work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper
Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years
for newspapers in New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.