These Housekeepers Asked Sheryl Sandberg to Lean In with Them. What Happened Next Will Not Amaze You.

by Corey Robin on May 24, 2014

Sheryl Sandberg claims to speak for working women. Especially poorer working women, according to the spokeswoman for Sandberg’s Lean In foundation: “The principles of Lean In are just as, if not more, important to women with lower incomes.”

So now comes Sandberg’s big test: Will she stand up for, and with, the women workers at a Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Cambridge, which is on a property owned by Harvard University? The workers want to be represented by a union. The hotel is resisting them. And Harvard isn’t helping.

Sandberg is going to be at Harvard this week, delivering a Class Day speech. The female employees at the hotel have asked to meet with her.

What happened next will not amaze you.

According to the Boston Globe, Sandberg “sent word she does not have time to host a ‘Lean In circle’ with the hotel employees.”

Here’s more from the Globe:

The attempt to unionize the workers began more than a year ago, when 70 percent of the approximately 112 nonmanagerial workers at the DoubleTree — housekeepers, banquet servers, front desk agents, van drivers, and Scullers Jazz Club employees — signed a petition asking for a “fair process,” Local 26 said.


Such an agreement would allow them to discuss joining a union without retaliation from the company. When a group of workers and Harvard students tried to deliver the petition to the former general manager, he refused to accept it, according to Local 26.



DoubleTree management has held meetings with employees, both in groups and one-on-one, to discourage them from unionizing, according to Local 26. It said management retaliated against one organizing committee member by putting fliers in the cafeteria and locker room calling him a “mole” and taking away extra shifts at Scullers.


Hilton declined to respond to the allegations.


Sandberg has been criticized for creating a movement aimed at financially well-off women, but her Lean In foundation says it has partnered with several organizations that serve lower-income women, including Dress for Success, and supports Lean In circles of domestic workers in San Francisco, as well as rescued sex slaves in Miami.



As part of the hospitality workers union, DoubleTree workers would get a bump in pay, more affordable health insurance, and standardized workloads.


DoubleTree workers are not necessarily on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Housekeeper Delmy Lemus, for instance, earns $15.82 an hour, plus tips, and has access to company-subsidized health insurance.


But Lemus, 33, said the family plan rates would consume nearly half her weekly paycheck. She decided to opt out of the benefit and enroll herself and her two daughters in MassHealth, the state insurance plan for low-income residents.


The job is physically demanding, Lemus said. When she was pregnant with her now 4-year-old daughter, Lemus began suffering sciatic nerve pain and was barely able to stand by the end of her shifts.


In her eighth month of pregnancy, she was assigned to the hotel’s laundry room. Lemus said she had to push carts loaded with linen and pull out heavy sofa beds.


“Almost every day I was crying,” the Revere resident said.


In a survey of dozens of DoubleTree workers done for Local 26 last summer, Harvard student Gabriel Bayard said every employee he interviewed complained of chronic pain, and nearly all said their workloads had increased in recent years.


More than 100 Harvard students have gotten involved in the DoubleTree campaign, including Sasanka Jinadasa, 21, president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, a feminist advocacy group. “If [Harvard] has a vested interest in the profits and the outcome of the company, it should care about what the workers want as well,” she said.



Lemus, a single mother, wants to save up enough money to send her daughters to college and eventually start her own housecleaning service. She said “leaning in” to make her voice heard, and fighting for union protections, is the beginning of that process.


“We’re just housekeepers, people without education. But we work very hard,” she said. “We have dreams. . . . We don’t want to die cleaning rooms in a hotel.”


Perhaps all the scolds who think students shouldn’t protest commencement speakers whose views they don’t like, and who think, in the face of all the evidence, that commencement speeches are an occasion of deep intellectual exchange, could now put some pressure on Sandberg to actually use her Class Day speech to say something beyond bromides and cliches. And to meet with the workers, and their student supporters, so that we can have a real exchange of ideas. Now that would be a commencement worthy of its name.

Please support the workers’ call for Sandberg to meet with them by signing here. I know folks don’t like to sign petitions, but sometimes, particularly in situations like these, they can make a difference.

{ 87 comments }

1

bianca steele 05.24.14 at 4:22 pm

It would be nice if she’d say something, since she can hardly pretend she wasn’t asked. And I don’t think her ideas are as elitist as some have charged. But has she ever, ever said a word about unions or wage workers, or whether there are situations where her ideas don’t work, and what might be done in those cases?

2

Witt 05.24.14 at 5:21 pm

Thank you for posting this. I think it points up the deep discomfort that many white-collar professionals are (trained to) have with being “unprofessional.”

IME, collective action is deeply stigmatized among upper-middle-class professionals, in a way that isn’t quite as strong as you go lower down the class/employment ladder.

And banding together with people who are speaking out collectively against their employer — which is what union organizing looks like to a lot of people — is really adversarial, from this perspective.

I would go so far as to say that for a lot of women of Sandberg’s level it is even said to be “lower class” to be airing your grievances with employers in public. Of course that is just part of a larger agenda to keep people frightened to talk about their salaries and working conditions with each other.

3

Main Street Muse 05.24.14 at 6:43 pm

If I recall, Sandberg’s initial motivation for writing Lean-In was because she found herself the only woman on many boards. The book is about leaning into work so as to get that corner office, not necessarily an argument for bettering women workers through unionization. How many in those corner offices are advocating for unions? Any?

So aligning with housekeepers who seek to unionize is not necessarily part of the Lean In ideology. I also doubt that unionization is highly regarded within the walls of Harvard, so I’m not holding my breath that the Harvard students will advocate loudly on behalf of the workers.

But want to point out that Sandberg is a working mother and perhaps her schedule in Boston is such that it precludes leaning in to this particular situation.

All this makes me wonder what Larry Summers would do in Sandberg’s place. And would we be talking about this if Larry Summers rejected this opportunity to advocate on behalf of hotel workers? Somehow, I doubt it.

4

Corey Robin 05.24.14 at 6:54 pm

The Lean In foundation’s very own spokesperson says, “The principles of Lean In are just as, if not more, important to women with lower incomes.” I see nothing wrong with holding her that principle in this case. And if Sandberg has time to talk to Harvard students, I see no reason why she shouldn’t spare an extra half-hour to talk to women workers. And if time is really the issue perhaps she could invite those workers to sit with her on stage and mention their struggle in her speech. Incidentally, Harvard students are advocating on behalf of those workers, if you read the Boston Globe piece I excerpt here. In the past Harvard students have vigorously supported living wage campaigns for Harvard employees. And, no, we wouldn’t be talking about it if it were Summers. Why would we be? Does he make any pretenses to be a spokesperson for working women? Especially, again to quote the Lean In spokeswoman, “women with lower incomes”?

5

bianca steele 05.24.14 at 7:55 pm

I think we’re mentioning Larry Summers because Sandberg is his protege, and it seems reasonable to assume her views on unions resemble his. For that matter, I haven’t ever heard of Summers saying anything bad about unions, either. He wouldn’t, would he? But I don’t think I could even manage an expression of “shocked, shocked!” that he declined to participate in a unionization campaign. (Would people be as surprised that someone couldn’t fit them in if they were a man? Maybe even in that case.) And he didn’t even write a whole book on women’s problems at work that didn’t once mention any organization other than an employer. It’s totally reasonable that women who found inspiration in her book would like her to participate in their struggle directly, but what would be surprising would be if she did.

6

T 05.24.14 at 9:13 pm

Take a look at the 26 pages of “partners.” http://leanin.org/partners/ They include Bain and WalMart among many other usual suspects. Lean In has two purposes: 1) create an environment where the daughters of plutocrats can move into C-suites and 2) create the tokenism that would distract from the fact that the C-suite occupants are screwing its employees, particularly women in low-income, low-status jobs. Mission accomplished!

7

Layman 05.24.14 at 11:28 pm

bianca steele @ 5

“I think we’re mentioning Larry Summers because Sandberg is his protege, and it seems reasonable to assume her views on unions resemble his.”

Perhaps that would be reasonable to assume, but so what? When Summers launches some organization which claims to want to help low-income people rise, and then gets invited to speak somewhere, and then gets invited to meet with low-income service employees trying to unionize while he’s there, and then says he doesn’t have time for that; well, then it might make sense to compare him. Until then, ISTM you’re just offering a distraction.

8

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 12:22 am

Layman,

“Distraction” to what? Are you saying you disagree with the OP, and Sandberg’s declining the invitation to meet surprises you? (And I’m sure Summers, if asked, would claim that whatever economic advisory board thingy he works on does help poor people.)

9

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 12:42 am

I have to confess that I also find the question of whether or not we’re surprised by Sandberg’s actions — and the corollary of whether we’d be surprised if Summers did this — a major distraction. It evades the point that the workers at this hotel who are organizing a union have asked for a meeting with Sandberg quite clearly in order to put pressure on Harvard to put pressure on the hotel to settle. There’s no doubt in my mind that if they got the meeting, or if there was even a hint that they would, Harvard would settle, or force Hilton to settle, faster than you can say “Lean In.” As in any struggle, the workers are using a celebrity’s status, and her claim to represent a group they belong to (women workers), on their own behalf.

Bianca, not long ago, you were complaining that Crooked Timber writers and commentators have a way of waiving away critiques of the workplace, and the need for action around the workplace, with talk of larger structural forces. I don’t think that’s really the case, as Henry pointed out in a response to you, but I do find this thread to be a version of that. Who cares if any of us is surprised or not? Let’s held her feet to the fire and demand that she live up to what her spokesperson says: that she and her philosophy represent and speak to all women workers, especially low-income women workers. If that’s true, then meet with these women workers.

10

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 1:12 am

Corey Robin “I have to confess that I also find the question of whether or not we’re surprised by Sandberg’s actions — and the corollary of whether we’d be surprised if Summers did this — a major distraction.”

To you, it is a distraction. To me, a working mother, this is absolutely not a distraction. Do you have children? Have you read Sandberg’s book? Maybe the Lean In foundation says “leaning in” is more important to women with lower incomes. That’s not who Sheryl is addressing in her book. And she is absolutely right to ask why there are not more women in board meetings.

I really do not think this would be an issue if Summers evaded a pro-union meeting. But for Sandberg, it is. Following on the heels of the NY Times firing of Jill Abramson for being “brusque” and mean to Dean Baquet (who smashed a wall when he had a meeting with his boss that did not go as planned), I think it appropriate to ask if we’d be as outraged if Larry Summers declined this meeting.

And Corey – what about Harvard makes you think that ANYONE associated with Harvard would be pro-union? Seriously!!! WTF!

And Bianca, yes I raised the issue of Larry Summers because Sandberg was his protege.

11

Bruce Wilder 05.25.14 at 1:32 am

MSM @ 3: But [I] want to point out that Sandberg is a working mother and perhaps her schedule in Boston is such that it precludes leaning in to this particular situation.

Why do you want to point that out?

I don’t care about her damn schedule or that she’s a “working mother”. The hardships of “working mothers” with her level of income just don’t evoke the same level of sympathy from me as those of the non-unionized service employees of a third-tier hotel.

If she can help out these folks, with a half-hour sprinkling of her fairy celebrity dust, I think that would be a good use of her time.

Elite figures like Sandberg want fame and fortune and the positive regard good P.R. can generate. There should be a price for that. We should expect our elites to do what they can to lead and manage a more just society, and, if they won’t do it, we should withdraw our support. Stop buying their stupid, self-serving books. Stop speaking positively of them, as if they are admirable, for being effective sociopaths.

I absolutely do not understand why anyone would be making excuses for Sandberg. She’s getting what she wants. Let her make time in her schedule for some people, who are not getting what (little) they want.

As for, “What would Larry Summers do?”, my only question about Larry Summers is, why the bastard isn’t in disgrace?

12

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 1:33 am

More from me… Do I think the hotel workers should unionize. YES absolutely. Do I think a Harvard grad – whose book is a call to action for women on the leadership track – should be the spokesperson for hotel workers? Not necessarily.

There are two very different issues at play here. Sandberg wants more women in the boardroom. I agree with her on that. But boardroom people are not fans of unions. So asking a person in a leadership position to advocate for unions – simply because she’s a woman – is wrong. Harvard leadership (not students) is not the place to find advocates for unions. Sad but true. And if I’m wrong on this, I would GLADLY be wrong!!! Point me to the Harvard union advocates who are not students!

And to slam Sandberg for not being available on a day she’s in town to go out and advocate for unions – that’s problematic for a number of reasons.

13

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 1:40 am

To Bruce Wilder: “I absolutely do not understand why anyone would be making excuses for Sandberg. She’s getting what she wants. Let her make time in her schedule for some people, who are not getting what (little) they want.”

WHY is it so important for one woman to do this? Why aren’t men being asked to support this union? Because hotel workers are female – we cannot ask men in positions of power to advocate for them?

I am heartily sick of the male double-standard. Heartily sick of it. Let some man (Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Jack Welch) be asked to bear the torch for family friendly work environments. NOT GONNA F***ING HAPPEN…

14

john c. halasz 05.25.14 at 1:50 am

“Sandberg wants more women in the boardroom.”

So? Why is that somehow important, in the broader scheme-of-things? Why is it any different than wanting Thai generals in the boardroom?

Bourgeois-individualist neo-liberal flibberty-do, that’s all it is.

15

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 1:55 am

To John C. Halasz – really – you have no idea why it matters to have more women (not Thai generals) in the boardroom?

16

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 1:55 am

It evades the point that the workers at this hotel who are organizing a union have asked for a meeting with Sandberg quite clearly in order to put pressure on Harvard to put pressure on the hotel to settle.

And since there was always nearly zero chance that Sandberg would agree to a meeting, this was tactically pointless. At this point the best they can get is to attract general public attention to the union effort.

Sandberg’s philosophy is obviously the liberal type of “there doesn’t need to be any change in the system, we only need to work with it better,” which doesn’t have any room for unions in it. So “holding her feet to the fire” doesn’t make sense, because she doesn’t care about that fire. Sure, point out that her view doesn’t work for wage workers and that they need unions because her view will never work for them.

The criticism of Sandberg from many feminists has been that “leaning in” doesn’t make sense to working women, or to anyone below the executive suite (the latter in my experience is totally wrong). T@6 says women shouldn’t aspire to the executive suite because executives exploit most working women. Some feminists have said that Sandberg shouldn’t be allowed to call herself a feminist because she’s giving advice to only some women. The women trying to organize at the Doubletree obviously don’t feel the same way, though. They’ve interpreted “lean in” as “organize.” And I think that’s totally in keeping with the idea of leaning in.

It’s not in line with Sandberg’s personal beliefs, most likely. That by itself doesn’t make “lean in” a bad idea.

Generally on CT discussion of workplace issues is in the range between “only C-level people care about that stuff, are you sure you want to put yourself on that side” and “workplace discrimination, you say? well, what did you expect? I mean, the law says you don’t have to be allowed to use the bathroom.”

17

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 2:00 am

What bothers me most about this discussion – the idea that the savior of union labor is Sheryl Sandberg. And to question the sexism of this makes me “bourgeois-individualist neo-liberal flibberty-do.”

Men need to lean in – now. And men need to be AS OUTRAGED when men (Hank Paulson, Larry Summers, Steve Jobs, etc.) fail to lean in the way Sheryl Sandberg does when she fails to show up for a unionization meeting of Hilton employees.

18

john c. halasz 05.25.14 at 2:12 am

You do realize that she owes her prominence to the fact that she’s the “COO” of Facebook, eh?

Here’s her Wikipedia page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheryl_Sandberg

The “nut paragraph” (sorry):

“In 1987, Sandberg enrolled at Harvard College and graduated in 1991 summa cum laude with a B.A. in economics and was awarded the John H. Williams Prize for the top graduating student in economics.[15] While at Harvard, Sandberg met then-professor Larry Summers who became her mentor and thesis adviser.[16] Summers recruited her to be his research assistant at the World Bank,[2] where she worked for approximately one year on health projects in India dealing with leprosy, AIDS, and blindness.[17]”

So, at least, she has a pseudo-science degree from a pseudo-university.

19

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 2:20 am

To John C Halasz @ 18 – CLEARLY Sheryl Sandberg has done a few things in addition to GRADUATING SUMMA CUM LAUDE FROM HARVARD IN 1991 – more than 20 years ago.

From your answer, you clearly have no idea why it might be beneficial to add more women to corporate boards.

And she’s not “COO” of Facebook. She’s COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Facebook, no quotation marks needed.

20

christian_h 05.25.14 at 2:23 am

MSM the idea that Sandberg is being asked to do this “simply because she is a woman” is preposterous. She is being asked because she is producing herself as some kind of feminist icon fighting for women in the workplace, and here are women in a workplace organizing to fight.
If her fight really only is for more women to be among the exploiters than she deserves nothing but derision just like the British aristocrats fighting for the inclusion of first-born daughters into the privilege of aristocracy, if only because this reveals a giant misunderstanding of the totality of women’s oppression that serves to… keep them out of boardrooms.

And btw, the Summers and Paulsons and Jobs of this world are regularly attacked on this blog, as well they deserve.

21

Ronan(rf) 05.25.14 at 2:26 am

MMS and Bianca – a lot of what you’re saying strikes me as right. But since this is coming from the workers themselves, doesnt that make it worth supporting ? (even if it’s only to highlight their position)

22

christian_h 05.25.14 at 2:29 am

Also the claim that prominent men in a comparable position are not asked similar things is just bs. I can’t believe how bad an example of sexist double standards – which are very real in many contexts – this is. Really only beat by the peerage thing, if that.

23

Bruce Wilder 05.25.14 at 2:31 am

I don’t think anyone imagine Sandberg is going to become a “savior” of labor unions. Corey Robin’s wry headline suggests this has not been an expectation.

The issue, here, is simply whether, as a celebrity in proximity, she, or her celebrity status, can be put to good use. Which, apparently, some student activists supporting the union and leaders of the unionization effort think can be done.

I say, go for it. If they just attract general public attention to their worthy cause, fine. They got an article in the Globe, which still has a circulation of dozens and dozens in the area.

If Ms Sandberg feels misused in all this, let her whine on her own behalf. But, let’s not be giving out feminist exemptions.

And, if there’s anything to be sick of on CT, it is “tactical” advice.

24

Ogden Wernstrom 05.25.14 at 2:44 am

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 1:55 am

To John C. Halasz – really – you have no idea why it matters to have more women (not Thai generals) in the boardroom?

Maybe it’s my dyslexia, but I thought Halasz was asking for a reason to have more women as Thai Generals.

Maybe I should explain my take on this: I think it matters to have more women in the boardroom. But every reason I come to that conclusion also applies to the hotel workers. The parallels I see are strong.

I’d like to see the reasoning of those who think more women should break through the glass ceiling for reasons that do not apply to working women in general, or with some specification of who-those-reasons-do-not-cover and why.

25

Main Street Muse 05.25.14 at 2:50 am

“She is being asked because she is producing herself as some kind of feminist icon fighting for women in the workplace, and here are women in a workplace organizing to fight.”

I find this hilarious. Has anyone here read Lean In? (Other than me?) FYI – she’s not a female Samuel Gompers.

I agree with Bruce Wilder that the workers have gotten good PR out of their request – PR they would not have gotten if they’d asked a male leader like Summers. But I doubt she feels “misused” by this.

And to all, please point me to the CT posts where key business leaders (other than Sandberg) were slammed for not supporting unionization of workers. Haven’t read those posts yet and would be interested in doing so.

26

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 2:57 am

Some facts to remember:

1. The women who work at this hotel and are seeking to be represented by a union asked for a meeting with Sheryl Sandberg. Why are they asking for a meeting with Sandberg? Because they recognize that she has branded herself, rather successfully, as a spokeswoman for women who work. Just as the spokeswoman for her foundation says (I tend to think that a spokeswoman for Sandberg has a better idea of how Sandberg wants to be represented than most of us here do). And the women who work at this hotel reasonably think of themselves as women who work. And so they’d like the putative spokeswoman of women who work to speak on behalf of them. Because they are, after all, women who work. And they believe that because she claims to speak on behalf of them, they might be able, with our help, to pressure her into, you know, speaking on behalf of them. And if they can’t, they assume that her celebrity status will help attract attention to their cause. Which it seems to have done, pretty much everywhere, except in this comment thread. Where people are focused on the much more pressing question of why we aren’t talking about Larry Summers’ failure to meet with these women workers. Which brings me to…

2. The women who work at this hotel and who are seeking to be represented by a union didn’t ask for a meeting with Larry Summers. Why didn’t they ask for a meeting with Larry Summers? Because they recognize that as both a former president of Harvard and general spokesperson for neoliberalism throughout the world, he’s not really a guy who’s all that friendly to unions and is certainly not going to speak up against Harvard on their behalf. In fact, he has a pretty bad record, certainly at Harvard, on the question of unions. So they thought that there was really no point: not for propaganda, not for getting attention for their cause. In the same way that if you were fighting for Palestinian rights you wouldn’t look to Elliot Abrams to speak up on your behalf — but you might feel like you had some leverage with getting Peter Beinart to do so.

3. Because the women who work at this hotel and who are seeking to be represented by a union have asked to meet with Sheryl Sandberg, and are pissed off that she’s blowing them off, and because they’ve gone to the Boston Globe and had a story written up about them, and because they’ve circulated a petition seeking support from people like us — in the hopes that some pressure will build to sufficiently embarrass Sandberg, with a both short- and long-term goal of embarrassing Harvard in order to pressure Hilton to settle this — I decided to post about the story here. In the hope that people of good will who claim to support unions and women workers would see the obvious point that if we can contribute to the pressure, that in the long run, Harvard will settle this thing.

4. Because the women who work at this hotel and who are seeking to be represented by a union have not asked to meet with Larry Summers, I have not posted a non-existent article from the Boston Globe about how Larry Summers failed to meet with the women who work at this hotel and who are seeking to be represented by a union.

27

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 3:19 am

Main Street Muse: “And to all, please point me to the CT posts where key business leaders (other than Sandberg) were slammed for not supporting unionization of workers. Haven’t read those posts yet and would be interested in doing so.”

1. Five days, I posted about an oped I had written in the NYT about the business-backed Republican war on worker rights. If you read the oped you’ll see that I make special mention of ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce and the National ASsociation of Manufacturers, all key business groups, who are spearheading this campaign at the state level.

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/05/19/the-war-on-workers-rights/

2. In October, I did a post on the well paid high tech professionals in the Bay Area, including a male executive at Twitter, who refused to support the BART strike.

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/10/20/how-i-met-your-mother-or-when-unions-disrupt-the-disruptors/

3. That same month I slammed the president of the University of Chicago for taking so long in order to treat the workers there with some modicum of respect.

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/10/09/upstairs-downstairs-at-the-university-of-chicago/

4. The month before that I slammed the administration of the University of Oregon for it was treating workers. (And if you’re thinking that you can separate these university leaders from corporate, think again. They answer to boards of trustees that are corporate America.)

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/09/15/university-of-oregon-to-faculty-you-belong-to-me/

5. June last year, I slammed corporate leaders for supporting an effort to deny workers the right read information at work that was critical to their right to organize unions.

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/06/17/rights-of-labor-tyranny-of-capital/

6. A couple of months before that I went after the leaders of Pomona College for how they were treating workers trying to organize.

http://crookedtimber.org/2013/03/16/oppose-a-straussian-support-the-workers-at-pomona-college/

And more generally, I slam libertarians who claim to speak for freedom and support Pinochet, Jews who claim to speak for a humane Judaism and treat Palestinians like shit, professors who claim to stand for freedom of association but who deny it to their graduate students, and, yes, leaders who claim to be feminists and who claim to speak for working women but who show nothing but contempt for women who work.

28

T 05.25.14 at 3:31 am

“T@6 says women shouldn’t aspire to the executive suite because executives exploit most working women.”

No. I’m saying that Lean In doesn’t really care about working women despite the rhetoric. And the list of partners makes that pretty damn clear. WalMart?

And I wish Sheryl Sandberg the best of luck turning more of Facebook user’s personal information into tailored mobile ads. And I hope that all of the women Harvard MBAs “Lean In” to get to the C-suite.

But you might want to ask yourself why current “partner” management is just fine with Lean In and not so fine w/raising the minimum wage, collective bargaining, and other actions that would help working women.

29

LFC 05.25.14 at 4:24 am

@Main Street Muse:
And Corey – what about Harvard makes you think that ANYONE associated with Harvard would be pro-union? Seriously!!! WTF!

I’ve not been participating in this thread, but Main St. Muse shd take a second to look up Richard Freeman, a labor economist who is a tenured prof in Harvard’s Ec Dept and has been for many years, and is not anti-union at all. (In fact I’ll give MSM a link in the next box.)

MSM’s apparent notion that all Harvard students and faculty are anti-union is just ludicrous. As at other ‘elite’ U.S. universities, there’s a range of opinion along the whole spectrum. As Corey pointed out and as the Globe piece mentioned, some Harvard students have been supporting the hotel workers. There is a long history of this (viz. student support for the campus Clerical and Technical Workers unionization efforts).

30

LFC 05.25.14 at 4:26 am

Actually I won’t give MSM the link to Freeman; I can’t be bothered. If MSM is interested, she can look him up herself.

31

BJN 05.25.14 at 4:33 am

When Lean In first came out, many people (rightly, IMO), complained that it was a cooption of the idea of feminism as something only relevant for already wealthy and privileged women and erasing working women. At the time these criticisms were derided as unfair utopianism and defenders of the book claimed (as Corey keeps saying) that it was at least in principle equally applicable to working women.

Now, us silly lefties are bitching that Sandberg can’t be bothered to give half a shit about working women, and the response is that Lean In is strictly applicable to already wealthy and privileged women vis a vis their relationship with wealthy and privileged men, and we are being completely unreasonable for expecting Sandberg to even pretend that her movement is something other than an internecine fight within corporate management.

If the book/nonprofit/movement is about all women, then shame on Sandberg for not giving a shit about working women. If it is only about upper level corporate management, then I probably would think as little of Sandberg as I do of, say, Larry Summers. Pick one. She can’t avoid both criticisms.

32

Meredith 05.25.14 at 5:46 am

Who selects and invites the class day speaker at Harvard? At New England schools I know about, it’s the students (whatever that process might entail), in contrast to the commencement speaker, who is chosen by the powers that be (trustees, behind whom the president hides). So, in this controversy, were are the students who invited Sandberg, on behalf of their entire class? I’d like to hear from them.

Lean in. Yeah. Like every woman hasn’t been doing that her entire life, all women for millenia (one big PUSH! PUSH! I can see the head!). Rescue me! Since I forgot to lean in like you, Mama-Dad Sandberg! But I’m veering to another story.

33

lupita 05.25.14 at 6:28 am

The topic changed from the plight of a specific group of workers to the supposed sexism suffered by a COO because #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

34

Passing By 05.25.14 at 7:39 am

Prof. Robin –

You regard unionization as a (the?) key tool for improving pay and working conditions for working people, especially those who have little clout individually. So you regard supporting the Hilton workers as a moral imperative, and anybody who doesn’t as a moral cretin.

For better or worse, that puts your moral intuitions out of tune with mainstream America’s. It’s not because mainstream Americans are moral cretins or tools of the 1% (although they may be both). It’s because they don’t see unions as suitable vehicles to achieve workplace safety or a living wage. In their view, that’s the role of government — OSHA, minimum wage laws, etc. From this perspective, relying on unions is primitive … like counting on private charity to look after the poor; or counting on the threat of family vendetta to protect us from murderers.

Now, anybody who takes this view will regard the Hilton situation as a mere private dispute with no moral valence, and none of her affair. FWIW, I’d wager that Ms. Sandberg’s moral intuitions lie closer to this view than to yours.

35

dbk 05.25.14 at 9:29 am

Those interested in labor issues who feel CR doesn’t cover them fully enough (I think his addition to the CT roster has been great in that regard, fwiw), they might like to hop over to LGM, where Erik Loomis provides all-day every-day coverage, including a series called This Day in Labor History. His latest post is on Walmart’s treatment of pregnant workers, which some might find relevant, given that Walmart is one of Leanin.org’s (many) corporate sponsors.

Upon reflection, this incident may be more complex and interesting than it appears initially. Presented as the idea of Harvard student activists, it must have been run by the labor organizer(s) working with hotel employees, who may well have realized she wouldn’t accept the invitation. But it drew attention to their cause, so whether she accepted (perhaps the students’ hope) or rejected the invitation, the organizers saw it as a win-win for the workers’ cause.

Here the speaker was confronted by a dilemma: whether to support members of her gender (by accepting) or not (by rejecting). This is essentially a gender-class dilemma, and in my experience, class interests generally (not always of course, there are exceptions) trump those of gender. There was no reason to expect her to act otherwise that I can see by reading her wiki bio/the leanin.org website. So in that respect I’d say I would have been surprised had she accepted the invitation. I was disappointed she didn’t, of course, but this was predictable.

With respect to the outdatedness/ineffectiveness of labor unions in the 21st century, I can only say that I have yet to see any proof that workers on their own have the same bargaining power with employers that they do when they are united. If there’s a better system, I’m certainly open to hearing about it, but so far what I observe are right-to-work laws, the stripping of pension and health insurance, refusal to acknowledge on-site health hazards (despite OSHA, I’m sorry to say), to name only the better-known results of decrease in union enrollment over the past 40 years.

36

Layman 05.25.14 at 10:05 am

bianca steele @ 8

A distraction from the OP, which is a call to hold Sandberg to her claim that Lean In tries to help poor working women. Shouldn’t we do that? If not, why not?

37

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 12:18 pm

Passing by: “For better or worse, that puts your moral intuitions out of tune with mainstream America’s.”

Polling data shows a consistent majority of Americans support labor unions.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/157025/labor-union-approval-steady.aspx

38

mjfgates 05.25.14 at 1:16 pm

Corey Robin@37, you missed half the fun:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx

Compare and contrast, oh yeah.

39

Mdc 05.25.14 at 1:37 pm

Meredith:

“the powers that be (trustees, behind whom the president hides)”

I think it’s “trustees, at whose pleasure the president serves”

40

engels 05.25.14 at 1:54 pm

mainstream American … don’t see unions as suitable vehicles to achieve workplace safety or a living wage. In their view, that’s the role of government

Newsflash: one of the things unions do is put pressure on the government…

41

adam.smith 05.25.14 at 2:38 pm

@34 – first, what Corey says: Americans actually do support unions and especially when those unions don’t look like the “union thugs” so constantly evoked by the business lobby, i.e. hotel workers’ unions and the justice for janitors folks are quite popular.

But also, to the extent that Americans _do_ believe this is the job of the government and not of unions, they’re simply misinformed. One of the tragedies of the US system of industrial relations is that, while it has the weakest private sector unions of any advanced industrialized country, the legal framework for industrial relations is uniquely focused on unions (and that was FDR’s and Wagner’s vision when the relevant legislation was passed). You can see that nicely in some contrasts to Germany. Remember that Chattanooga VW plant? VW wanted to establish a German-style workers council there to allow for some co-determination, which they had found useful in running plants elsewhere. However, labor law (at least in their reading) required unionization before such a council could be established (in Germany, a workers council is required for a plant of that size by federal law).
Similarly, protection against unfair dismissals (except for some very narrowly defined categories), collective bargaining etc. are all tied directly to union membership in the US.

42

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 3:03 pm

A distraction from the OP,

What is a distraction from the OP? You haven’t identified anything I’ve said, just handwaved.

I thought the “Lean In” poster for the union was very clever, and under different circumstances asking her to participate in an organizing meeting and weigh in against Harvard might have worked. But no, I don’t think there is any point to trying to get Sheryl Sandberg to endorse a union organizing effort or to meet with union organizers when there’s every reason to suspect she’s actively hostile to unions.

It’s not even a gender-class dilemma if her beliefs tell her that there should be no unions.

The assumption that every feminist is a hard lefty is ridiculous. And Bruce Wilder’s repeated claims that she’s a “celebrity” with no other interesting facts about her than her “pixie dust,” implies that a woman writing a book is something like a dog walking on its hind legs.

43

geo 05.25.14 at 5:33 pm

Bianca: “The assumption that every feminist is a hard lefty is ridiculous.”

Yes, true, when you put it that way. But still … isn’t there a grain of plausibility to the assumption? Back in the New Left, struggles for economic equality, racial equality, and sexual equality were thought to be intimately related, parts of a single movement for social justice. Certainly the right always saw us as a common enemy.

44

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 5:46 pm

geo: Certainly the right always saw us as a common enemy.

Yes, and certainly the right today (taken as a whole) views feminists as perhaps the most visible manifestation of the left.

But on the other hand, I just read something by a leftist claiming that feminism is absolutely not and never was a left movement. Needs more investigation, but I’ve got to figure out why my browser keeps crashing and I can’t print.

45

lupita 05.25.14 at 6:30 pm

if her beliefs tell her that there should be no unions.

That sounds like belief-rape to me, as if neoliberal thoughts penetrated corporate women without their consent.

46

Layman 05.25.14 at 6:36 pm

bianca steele @ 42

“The assumption that every feminist is a hard lefty is ridiculous.”

Sorry, but this is nonsense. The premise of the point being made in the OP isn’t based on the assumption that Sandberg must be a leftist because she’s a feminist. It’s based on her own claim, or that of her promoters, that her Lean In philosophy is intended to help low-income women; and the reasonable assumption that she ought therefore be willing to help low-income women.

Further, this is also the reason why dragging in a Summers is a distraction. I read you as complaining that Sandberg suffers criticism while Summers does not, and implying that this is due to sexism. But sexism is unnecessary, as Sandberg has made a claim about intentions which Summers has not; so Summers isn’t due the same kind if criticism as is Sandberg. Now, to be clear, I think there are few criticisms one couldn’t reasonably level at Summers; but in this case they simply aren’t comparable.

If I’ve read you wrong, I apologize of course. But then you ought to explain clearly what it us you’re going on about.

47

Bruce Wilder 05.25.14 at 6:37 pm

lupita @ 45

[The obvious come-back would probably get me banned.]

48

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 6:40 pm

Bianca: “It’s not even a gender-class dilemma if her beliefs tell her that there should be no unions.”

What evidence do you have that she believes there should be no unions?

“The assumption that every feminist is a hard lefty is ridiculous.”

A believe that there should be unions now marks one as a hard lefty? Then I guess 52% of the American population are hard lefties! Woo hoo. Let the revolution begin.

“But no, I don’t think there is any point to trying to get Sheryl Sandberg to endorse a union organizing effort or to meet with union organizers when there’s every reason to suspect she’s actively hostile to unions.”

I tend to think union workers and organizers have a better sense of what is tactically effective than do commenters on a Crooked Timber thread. But even if I didn’t, the fact that in the last two days this story has gotten way more publicity than it had before suggests how wrong you are. Again, outside this very strange comment thread, people are now talking about the situation of these hotel workers.

49

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 6:40 pm

I read you as complaining that Sandberg suffers criticism while Summers does not,

I think you’ll find it was MSM who said most of the things you’re attributing to me.

50

bob mcmanus 05.25.14 at 6:43 pm

Nah, feminism is always of the left, because I say so.

But like nationalism, anti-racism, secularism, socialism, anti-colonialism etc, it’s rhetoric and resources can co-opted and expropriated for conservative, libertarian, or individualistic purposes. Feminism is always collective and associational, because that is what left means.

“I want a raise or partnership” is no more feminism than “I am going to take your stuff” is socialism.

The personal becomes political if and when it becomes impersonal, an instance of a class or group oppression.

51

Corey Robin 05.25.14 at 6:46 pm

Lupita at 45: I’m not at my regular computer so I can’t moderate this thread and delete your comment as I might were I at home. But you’re nearing a line here. Please step back.

52

lupita 05.25.14 at 6:48 pm

I apologize. I meant it sounded as if she were not responsible for her beliefs. Sorry.

53

Layman 05.25.14 at 6:50 pm

“I think you’ll find it was MSM who said most of the things you’re attributing to me.”

You’re right, but I think you’ll find that you implicitly aligned yourself with MSM’s views (note the use of ‘we’ in your explanation of why he matters); not to mention you explicitly made the uncharitable claim about generalizing feminism to which I responded.

54

Passing By 05.25.14 at 6:54 pm

Prof. Robin –

My point (#34) is that most Americans do not view union expansion among low-wage workers [e.g., the Hilton hotel workers] as a moral issue. Rather, they regard it as a private dispute with no moral valence.

In reply (#37), you point to Gallup surveys showing that “a consistent majority of Americans approve of labor unions”. Frankly, that’s changing the subject. Vaguely approving of labor unions as they exist doesn’t mean favoring their broad expansion, much less viewing that expansion as some sort of moral imperative.

An analogy may help here: It seems likely that most Americans approve of grocery stores. But it seems unlikely that many would view a broad expansion of grocery store chains as some sort of moral issue. More likely, they’d regard it as a private business decision.

Also, let me call your attention to another question asked in the Gallup surveys you cited. Anybody who views broad union expansion as a moral imperative favors unions having “more influence than they do today”. But most Americans (66%) favor unions’ having the “same” influence or “less”. Only 29% favor “more”. So the survey evidence tends to support the interpretation of Americans’ views that I suggested.

55

bianca steele 05.25.14 at 7:01 pm

Corey: What evidence do you have that she believes there should be no unions?

I don’t know that she believes there should be no unions. I think it is fairly likely that she does, or at least that she believes in unions in a vague way but pretty much always thinks they’re wrong in every specific case. In fact, I’m surprised that the coverage of her book so far has left anyone thinking the opposite. For one thing, there’s the fact that “leaning in” is an individual act and asking a union to help you is not. For another, I seem to remember her employer is not pro-union. I think it’s fairly likely that when she thinks of low-wage workers “leaning in,” she thinks of them taking advice like those in self-help books and women’s magazines, and sitting down one-on-one with the boss, and asking what they can contribute, not what they can get. I’d love to see her prove me wrong.

56

adam.smith 05.25.14 at 7:36 pm

“leaning in” is an individual act

If you look at leanin.org, of the three components of the movement number one is “Community” and number three is “Circles,” so while Sandberg may or may not believe unions are a good thing, she clearly thinks collective action is.

57

roy belmont 05.25.14 at 7:42 pm

Please support the workers’ call for this prominent member of the managerial elite to meet with them, so they can ramify their polite request for better treatment by the invisible shogunate.

The recent historical successes of politely asking for better treatment by the invisible shogunate are so numerous as to need no quantifying.

Non-violent actions such as the Occupy movement have proved this.
Legitimate grievances, politely delivered, addressed by the heretofore oblivious elite, because they’ve just been too damned busy running things to notice how shitty the conditions below them are.

Getting rapacious amoral opportunists to modify their cannibal vampirism is, must be, and should be the focused goal of all the under-class, and strategically it’s vital that requests for that modification be polite and mannerly, and not at all socially disruptive.

Nasty-tempered chaos and rude anarchy, even with the most altruistic motives, are always worse than conditions of neo-slavery, because they prevent capable individuals from getting important things done.

Slaves are dependent on the success of their masters.

58

Bruce Wilder 05.25.14 at 8:24 pm

Passing By @ 54: most Americans do not view union expansion among low-wage workers [e.g., the Hilton hotel workers] as a moral issue. . . . they regard it as a private dispute with no moral valence.

I’m always skeptical of claims that “most” Americans have any particular view; for the most part, “majority” views are composites of similar or complementary attitudes and notions, some of which may be very shallow and ill-considered, and which are subject to active campaigns of manipulation through the mass media.

There’s a strong background hum in Media, hostile to labor unions, but deeper than that, people just seem adverse to belonging. “Right-to-work” has always been an important and effective propaganda point, emphasizing the resentment of the individual against the collective power of the union.

What interests me in this comment thread though is how a figure such as Sandberg, identified with a certain sort of self-help credo, relates to unions. Not so much her own beliefs about the value of unionizing — which I take it from comments have not been publicly aired and can only be inferred from dubious clues of social class bias — as how people’s projections onto her public persona figure in their rationalization of working for a union.

As I understand it, Sandberg stands for women’s empowerment in the workplace, from an elite and individualist perspective. She has addressed herself specifically to the problems of women, who are seeking powerful leadership positions, but she has attracted a much broader audience than that focus implies.

Unions stand for empowerment in the workplace, but necessarily unions seek collective empowerment of the ordinary, non-elite individual. Solidarity is the traditional watchword of the union. To the extent that there has been some popular resentment toward unions, it is associated with the idea that unions, in solidarity, seek to restrain and constrain the individually ambitious.

In this case, though, those seeking a union seem to be attaching their personal ambition and desire for individual empowerment to the union. It would seem to be a different motive for unionization, and one that is expressing itself in the projection (if I can call it that without seeming to condescend) onto Sandberg.

One particular issue, other than wages, may be particularly salient: hours and scheduling.

Historically, if I recall correctly, unions were involved in a long struggle to limit hours of work, to bring the workday within some reasonable bound, and to require overtime pay for exceeding the 40 hour week, say. A critical issue for the hotel staff, apparently, is bringing up hours and securing a stable, predictable schedule.

I don’t know if that issue is rightly a pivot significant enough to change the character of unions with a different motivation for unionization, but I can see the ability to control and predict one’s schedule and income is very much an individual empowerment.

59

djr 05.25.14 at 8:59 pm

If Sandberg thinks that unions aren’t the best way for hotel workers to “lean in”, meeting with the DoubleTree workers would be a great opportunity for her to tell them what approach she recommends Everyone’s a winner!

60

John Quiggin 05.26.14 at 3:30 am

A couple of minor points

1. Before posting a whataboutery comment suggesting CT hasn’t covered some topic or another, it’s a good idea to use the search facility. In this case, a search for “union” might have helped Main Street Muse and saved Cory some time responding.

2. Can anyone explain how the “Lean In” metaphor is supposed to work? Are women supposed to lean in to the table at boardrooms? Or is it a reference to a batting stance in some ball game? It honestly conveys nothing to me, yet all the discussions I see treat it as self-explanatory

61

Lee A. Arnold 05.26.14 at 3:40 am

If you watch Sandberg’s TED talk, quite a clear presentation about how women are underrepresented in the highest echelons of corporate organization, she advises women to remain competitive even though they are merely thinking about marriage or childbearing, when they exhibit a tendency to “lean out” of boardroom conversations and promotional opportunities, well in advance of pregnancy or giving birth, instead of “leaning in” until the last possible moment, and giving it all to their business careers. It is about upper-level “C” stuff.

62

Tabasco 05.26.14 at 5:01 am

If Sandberg lent a helping hand to anybody (not just women) who want to unionize, that might lead to some awkward questions, like “so you’d be happy to see Facebook employees be represented by a union?”.

Principles are one thing, but business is business.

63

Meredith 05.26.14 at 5:57 am

bobmcmanus: “The personal becomes political if and when it becomes impersonal, an instance of a class or group oppression.”

Well, that’s strange (but not — new v. old left here)? How about, the personal becomes political when it connects with (an)other personal(s) in a web that is communal? (Maybe that’s where feminism has a definitive contribution to make to your vision?)

JQ@41: not sure where it all started, but MSNBC here in the US joined and since has tried to lead some sort of elbow-to-the-grindstone metaphor. I guess we’re all pushing millstones. Lovely metaphor, no? Just what our hunting-and-gathering ancestors imagined as the better life for their descendants.

I’ve been doing a good deal of research lately into colonial American stuff (which often sends me to Australia, irrelevantly to my specific concerns, but it’s still interesting when I permit myself to be diverted — plus, I’ve just finished The Illuminaries re NZ — not anywhere as good as Hilary Mantel, but awfully good, still). This Zeal-of-the-land-Busy type: that’s the ultimate model for “Lean-in,” of that I am sure.

64

Jerry Buttle 05.26.14 at 11:32 am

T 05.24.14 at 9:13 pm said:

“Lean In has two purposes: 1) create an environment where the daughters of plutocrats can move into C-suites and 2) create the tokenism that would distract from the fact that the C-suite occupants are screwing its employees, particularly women in low-income, low-status jobs. Mission accomplished!”

There’s one more you didn’t mention: Prepare for Ms. Sandberg’s run for US political office.

65

Shelley 05.26.14 at 2:51 pm

She considers “Dress for Success” to be evidence of a deep concern for the increasingly buried working class?

That’s pathetic.

66

CSC 05.26.14 at 3:34 pm

JQ @ 60: fwiw, I have always taken “Lean In” to refer to a physical posture of assertiveness, like this semi-iconic image of LBJ:

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m9iw3gi1rp1qjih96o1_400.jpg

67

Harold 05.26.14 at 3:37 pm

She is disciple of Larry Summers, not exactly a feminist. I guess they are advising women to get over it and stop being such shirkers.

68

TomH 05.26.14 at 8:27 pm

Any valid message delivered for gain is no longer a message but a commercial.
Sheryl Sandberg does not have a message for the hotel workers or anybody else for that matter, what she has and is is a product. There is no altruism in her pitch just a poorly veiled grab for furthering herself.
Lean In exists solely for the machinations of the billionaire Sheryl Sandberg.

69

John Quiggin 05.26.14 at 10:02 pm

@CSC I guess that’s right, but to be assertive, this kind of lean-in requires that you be taller than the other person. It’s really more like “stand over”.

70

Main Street Muse 05.26.14 at 10:16 pm

It is fantastic that the Hilton workers are getting great PR out of this request. And I hope it works.

I don’t see many in the C-suite heading out to advocate for unions (is anyone in any C-suite of any company actively support unions? That’s brilliant, if it exists). I’m surprised, given the relentless anti-union advocacy of business and political leaders, that 52% of Americans support unions. That’s encouraging, but I don’t see a flowering of unions as a result.

The OP notes that Sandberg’s “Lean In foundation says it has partnered with several organizations that serve lower-income women, including Dress for Success, and supports Lean In circles of domestic workers in San Francisco, as well as rescued sex slaves in Miami.”

The OP fails to note that, according to the Boston Globe article, “…Harvard ‘respectfully declines Local 26’s request for the university to insert itself into this organizing campaign.'” (According to the Boston Globe article.)

Apparently the hotel is on “property owned by Harvard University.” Who pulls more weight in this situation? Why bash the lady (Summers’ protege, COO of a non-union shop, author of a book focused on getting more women into leadership positions, where they will likely not advocate for unions), and ignore the fact that the owner/university is refusing to “insert itself into this organization campaign”?

But again, this is a brilliant PR tactic on the part of the workers – and I hope it works for the them. They do not seem to have Harvard on their side, however…

To John Quiggin, I agree with you about the nothingness of the “Lean In” metaphor.

71

dsquared 05.26.14 at 10:29 pm

MSM, I think the phrase you might have been looking for was “yes I admit that Corey has written a lot of other posts about union organising drives and am sorry for claiming otherwise”?

72

Haftime 05.26.14 at 10:32 pm

MSM, from the OP:
“And Harvard isn’t helping.”

73

Corey Robin 05.26.14 at 11:02 pm

Main Street Muse: I’m beginning to get irritated by your serial misrepresentations of the post. To wit (at #70): ‘The OP fails to note that, according to the Boston Globe article, “…Harvard ‘respectfully declines Local 26’s request for the university to insert itself into this organizing campaign.’” (According to the Boston Globe article.) Apparently the hotel is on “property owned by Harvard University.””

Original Post (2nd graf, no less): “…the women workers at a Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Cambridge, which is on a property owned by Harvard University? The workers want to be represented by a union. The hotel is resisting them. And Harvard isn’t helping.”

Do you even bother to read before you fire off a comment? And do you even bother to read all the comments in the thread that then correct you?

74

T 05.26.14 at 11:13 pm

John Q –

Imagine sitting around a small conference table. If you want to engage in the process with the other folks then “lean in” rather than sit back. Active v. passive. Participant v. observer. Taking control v. ceding control.

75

geo 05.27.14 at 12:56 am

CR@73: Do you even bother to read before you fire off a comment? And do you even bother to read all the comments in the thread that then correct you?

Is that now required?

76

LFC 05.27.14 at 2:03 am

Main Street Muse’s modus operandi, especially (but not only) in this thread, is to fire off outraged comments making sweeping, sometimes nonsensical claims (as in her claim upthread that no one connected in an way with Harvard Univ could possibly be pro-union, i.e., failing to distinguish between the univ’s administrators and anyone else who might be connected w the institution), and then not bothering to read or acknowledge subsequent comments that take issue with or correct her.

77

stubydoo 05.27.14 at 2:33 am

There was a friend of mine who had an entry level job in a hotel who gave me a first hand account of what happens when a hitherto non-unionized hotel becomes unionized. Her wages went up a bit, specifically they went up by essentially the same amount as the new union dues she now had to pay. She had nothing to say about any other changes in work conditions, such as scheduling and hours (I did ask her). This happened in New York City approximately five years ago.

So on net a total wash (at least according to my friend). Seemingly the only beneficiary was some group of professional union-organizer types. Perhaps that is precisely what was intended all along. Possibly that is also the case with the hotel being discussed in the OP here. Since I’m going all speculative now, I might as well suggest that possibly Ms. Sandberg even knows all of this (for those above who seem to think she isn’t a proper thinker, you can imagine that Professor Summers told her about it).

78

Ogden Wernstrom 05.27.14 at 4:02 am

…a friend of mine who had an entry level job in a hotel…becomes unionized….on net a total wash (at least according to my friend). Seemingly the only beneficiary was some group of professional union-organizer types.

I’m surprised you don’t see the other major beneficiary/beneficiaries.

When I was an undergrad, one of the common places for students to get summer jobs was a union cannery – which paid temporary/new employees $0.05/hr above minimum wage…and charged $2.00/week in dues. We perceived three beneficiaries.

(1) Non-student workers, with more seniority, made what seemed to us much more money – and paid the same $2.00 week, and got to vote in union elections. This may not be applicable to the hotel example, but may apply to the abundant anecdotes heard from so many friends – entry-level union members often get very little benefit from the union. About 10 years ago, I partially-read a Teamster’s contract that had starting pay of $8.25/hr and a top pay rate of $52.xx/hr.

(2) The one union representative we ever saw at the plant. [We figured out the gross dues from the plant, and figured out that she might be earning double the minimum wage, if she kept expenses low enough.]

(3) The cannery. Once a union is in place, replacing it with a better union is impractical – and risky.

79

adam.smith 05.27.14 at 5:31 am

@77 – as a COO of a company that deals a lot with data, I assume Sandberg knows the old social science bon mot that the plural of anecdote is not data.
Luckily, there is, in fact, data on both the effect of unions on hotel worker wages: http://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1197&context=grrj (40% difference) and the effect of unionization on low-wage jobs:
http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/unions-low-wage-2007-08.pdf (significant increases in wages and even more significant increases in non-wage benefits).

Some of the critics of the SEIU’s unionization strategy have, though, argued that they prioritized unionization per se over tangible benefits for newly unionized workers. But even in that case you can (and the SEIU would) make the case that increasing unionization in a sector is a medium-term strategy to improve wages and labor conditions—but that’s certainly a reasonable concern. Intrestingly, though, Andy Stern and his vision of the SEIU/Change to Win was the neoliberals favorite part of the union movement.

(Btw. I think people here vastly overstate Larry Summers’s hostility towards unions; I don’t mean this as a big defense of Summers as a crypto-leftist, but rather to buttress Corey’s point that being pro union isn’t exactly “hard left” — here’s Summers on unions in 2009: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/13/summers-offers-philosophi_n_174663.html )

80

Steve Consilvio 05.27.14 at 9:03 pm

Undoubtedly, poor Sheryl felt that the union was being too bossy.

81

Troubled 05.30.14 at 2:23 am

I wanted to add my voice to those who think it’s odd to associate Sheryl Sandberg with a movement for union organization. I don’t know much about her, and I haven’t read the book, but just going by publicity and interviews at the book’s publication I have the impression that her focus is personal behaviors and attitudes of women at work. I think this is a real issue for women (I’m speaking as a woman here), even though its importance relative to other issues is debatable. But it seems obvious to me that it doesn’t have much of anything to do with forming a union.

I was really irritated by this thread, so felt I had to say to those who expressed this view that you are not alone. And I would hope that the discussion about working women has advanced to the point that it permits more than one perspective. Just because someone represents herself as an advocate of working women does not mean that she should be expected to give active support to every group of women who work.

82

engels 05.31.14 at 12:33 pm

83

Suzanne 05.31.14 at 2:01 pm

@74: I’ve been in meetings where it was quite easy to distinguish the guy who was really running the meeting by his relaxed, laid-back posture. Perhaps the point is that it’s easy for Sheryl Sandberg, with her powerful patrons, amenable husband, and comfortable place, to advocate greater aggressiveness from women (without reference, for the most part, to institutional barriers to women’s progress). Sandberg isn’t even the best possible model; she’s the COO, not the CEO, answering to a man, and that’s probably not going to change for her. Reportedly she has political ambitions, which would explain a lot of this. When her book came out she was canny enough to co-opt many well-known feminist writers with a by-invitation-only kaffeklatsch.

She does get a few brownie points for uttering the word “feminism,” which most American women who’ve made it to the upper reaches of the business world still avoid doing (at least while they still have the big job).

84

Layman 05.31.14 at 4:34 pm

Suzanne @ 83

“Just because someone represents herself as an advocate of working women does not mean that she should be expected to give active support to every group of women who work.”

This is certainly fair but what does it leave us WRT Sandberg? Are there any groups of low-wage women to whom Sandberg has given ‘active support’, or must we judge her advocacy merely on the basis of her own representations?

The point of the OP seems perfectly clear to me. Sandberg is a wealthy & privileged woman who, unsurprisingly, succeeded. She leveraged that success to promote herself as a role model for women. When critics pointed out that she was talking just to elites like herself, she disagreed, and claimed her advice was just as meaningful for low-income working women; and, by extension, that she was concerned with helping them, too. But when offered the opportunity to help some low-income working women, she declined, saying she didn’t have time. But she’s going to Harvard in the first place to spend her precious time talking to elites! So, given a choice, she chooses to help them rather than helping low-income women; and the original criticism seems to be on the mark.

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Layman 05.31.14 at 4:37 pm

Suzanne, please accept my sincere apology. My comment was intended in response to Troubled @ 81, not to you.

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bianca steele 05.31.14 at 4:39 pm

A few years back there used to be occasional posts on whether (IIRC) women academics found themselves taken advantage of because they found it difficult to decline requests to serve on committees. What is the difference in this case?

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engels 05.31.14 at 6:42 pm

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