Dissatisfaction Can Change the World: A Prozdor Learn-In on Workers’ Rights

By Emilia Diamant (Current Organizing Fellow)

Originally posted on January 24th, 2013 at Jewishboston.com

“Let us be dissatisfied until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Let us be dissatisfied until that day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. Let us be dissatisfied. “ –Doctor Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is dissatisfaction that motivates us, as human beings, to make change. We see something that we find to be unjust and, hopefully, we act to attempt to counteract that.

On Sunday, January 6th, a group of twenty Prozdor students met with two rabbis and two former employees of the Hyatt to learn about an injustice happening in hotels across the country and the world. Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Hillel B’nai Torah taught students about the history of Jews in the labor movement, reminding us that many of our descendants fought the battle for forty-hour work weeks and child work protection laws.

But this was not a history lesson. Rabbi Penzner introduced two guests, both former Hyatt employees. One is employed by UniteHere, the union that represents hotel workers, and the other a housekeeper at another hotel in Boston who immigrated to the United States from India over two decades ago.

They told the story of how three years ago in Boston, 150 Hyatt workers were fired with no advance warning. They were given severance packages and sent on their way, even some employees who were a few months short of retirement, having worked 29 years for the hotel. These two former Hyatt workers described how it felt to lose their jobs and their livelihoods. Luckily, these two were able to find gainful employment; the same was not true for all their peers.

Rabbi David Jaffe of Gann Academy then told our students about a campaign happening right now around the North American Jewish Day School Conference, which is being held next month at a Hyatt hotel. Due to their labor practices, Hyatt hotels are being boycotted globally by hundreds of organizations, including the National Football League. The conference organizers, having been booked before the boycott was called, are struggling to figure out how to address the issue.

The question was posed to the student: what would you do? If you were organizing this conference, how would you respond? Our Prozdor students came up with some awesome answers, everything from talking with the Hyatt CEO to creating viral videos to educate the public. In the end, a few students stepped forward to continue the work. Now they and students from Gann will be spreading the word to potential conference attendees about the boycott, and see if they’d like to get involved in the movement to support Hyatt workers.

As Jews, we are always dissatisfied; hopefully the motivation it provides to our teens will help create more justice in our world.

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