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Labor movement fights for livable wages

by Daniel Ginsberg |
December 21, 2008
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Picketing in the cold
(Fight Back! News)
Winter protest

Milwaukee, WI - Trade unionists and community activists picketed here, Dec. 12 outside a business currently using out-of-state, non-union workers for an $18 million renovation.

Designed as an event to bring attention to the need to hire local labor and pay a livable wage, over 100 people came to show Milwaukee is ready to fight back as the employing class squeezes its grip through the economic downturn.

The targeted business, the Hyatt Regency, is a signature building of Milwaukee, located downtown and owned by Noble Investment Group, an Atlanta-based company which hired the Virginia-based Digney York Associates, LLC to renovate the hotel's interior.

"We can't let these businesses hire elsewhere without a fight," said Lyle Balistreri, the President of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council, speaking from the back of a truck outside the hotel. "The least they could do is pay [the workers] what they pay our guys to do this kind of work."

Balistreri spoke of the Digney York's low wages and the fact that only a fraction of the $18 million renovation was intended for local employment.

Milwaukee is currently undergoing a similar struggle to stop the outsourcing of labor as the Good Jobs Livable Neighborhood coalition and city developers duel over a proposed ordinance to require developers using at least $10 million of city taxpayer money to first hire local and unemployed labor.

Organizations in the Good Jobs Livable Neighborhood coalition, including Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization, and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope, were present at the Friday picket.

What is clear is the people of Milwaukee, suffering depression-level statistics before the recession, must fight even harder for what they have during this time of economic crisis. Noble Investment Group is one of many businesses using the guise of economic downturn to ship in low-wage, non-union workers and undermine livable wages in the city.

The picketing is planned to go on every Friday for the rest of December. Around 150 people attended the picket, which lasted from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

"We want real solutions to the economic problems we're facing," commented Rick Gutierrez, who picketed on behalf of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494. "What we want are local jobs for local workers."