"I am half Mexican and I have lots of family with not the best kinds of jobs, so I know how hard it is to support a family," said Emma Delmonte, a youth from Community Church of Sebastopol UCC in Sebastopol, Calif. "It makes you want to help."
Edie Rasell, the UCC's minister of economic justice, spoke to about 100 youth about the importance of jobs that provide a living wage that keeps families above the poverty line, and offer benefits like paid time off and health insurance. A representative from Unite Here, an organization that represents service workers throughout the U.S. and Canada, also spoke about the importance of unions as a clear way to put pressure on a company to treat its workers fairly.
"The problem with jobs in this country is that there are not enough of them and they pay very little," Rasell said. "The only way to fix the problem is to fix the jobs."
Jose Landino, a cook from the Long Beach Hilton, talked about the hardships he and his fellow workers face as employees of the company. He said he and his colleagues have been trying to form a union for five years, and have been met with threats and intimidation from the management. They have reached out to the Long Beach community for support, and have since accomplished raising the minimum wage for hotel workers in establishments with 100 rooms or more to $13/hour, but that there is still more work to be done to form a union that will provide the dignity and respect that all workers deserve."We want to unionize to make a better life," Landino said through an interpreter. "We are now looking forward to the future and hope young people like you have better lives in your work."
The hotel issue first arose in the summer of 2009, when Edith Guffey, then-Associate General Minister of the UCC, learned that issues over working conditions had created conflict between workers and management at the Hilton Long Beach. At the time, the Hilton was one of the key General Synod 2013 hotels. Guffey sent a letter to the hotel and the union encouraging them to resolve their differences and reminding them that the General Synod strongly supports workers' rights and has a history of cancelling contracts with hotels experiencing labor disputes.
In 2012, as the hotel boycotts continued, the UCC exercised a contract clause to a clause in the contracts with the Hilton and Hyatt hotels that allowed the UCC to withdraw, without penalty, if it appeared a labor dispute would be occurring during the time of General Synod. The UCC Meeting Service staff had to find alternative hotels to accommodate General Synod delegates and guests. The boycott of the Hyatt has ended, but a new labor agreement has still not been signed.
"We believe our faith calls us to stand with the workers," Rasell said. "This is a wonderful way to demonstrate our faith."