Home / General / Penny Pritzker, Hyatt, and Busting Teacher Unions

Penny Pritzker, Hyatt, and Busting Teacher Unions


In discussing Hyatt Hotels heir Penny Pritzker’s support of Obama while UNITE-HERE has called for a boycott because of the terrible way the chain treats its housekeepers, it’s worth pointing out Pritzker’s other recent activities–attacking teacher unions.

Pritzker has been right there with Rahm Emanuel in his fight against Chicago teachers.

Penny Pritzker’s role as one of the seven members of the Chicago Board of Education has been prominent since Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her in May 2011. As one of her first acts on the school board, she spoke in favor of the controversial (and since proved mendacious) decision by the Board of Education to vote that it was facing a “fiscal crisis” and therefore did not have to honor the fifth year of the labor contract with the school system’s unions. That vote rescinded the four percent raise that the unions had negotiated four years earlier with the previous school board. Two months after that vote, Pritzker voted quietly to transfer an additional $70 million to the City of Chicago for police services in the schools, a scandal that has lately been exposed by researchers (including this reporter) at the Chicago Teachers Union. The school system had a valid contract with the city requiring it to pay $8 million per year for police services, but after breaking the unions’ contracts, the members of the Board voted to transfer the additional money to Rahm Emanuel’s city budget. As with most decisions of the Board since Pritzker became a member, the action was taken in August 2011 without discussion or debate.

The most prominent public activities of Penny Prtizker during the past year have not been the occasional soiree with rich people (and Rahm Emanuel) at her Ochard Street mansion on Chicago’s north side, but her monthly attendance at the meetings of the Chicago Board of Education, where she has spoken openly in favor of the union busting privatization policies of Rahm Emanuel’s appointed Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Of course, it’s not like busting teacher unions is something Obama has much concern with, given his close ties the a whole cadre of Chicago “reformers,” including Emanuel, Pritzker and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Can’t wait until Democrats take power in order to create sensible education policies that support teachers….

But I’m sure labor will have a far greater say in the 2nd Obama term than Penny Pritzker!

Diane Ravitch with more.

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  • Holden Pattern

    Lesser evil! Romney is worse! Get excited!

  • Dan Mulligan

    I’m so sorry to have to agree. Lesser evil is the only thing that is getting me to vote for Obama this time around. He has proven by his acts that he is oh so much more comfortable with the elites.

    Still makes a nice “main street” union type speech, I guess. But, like so many of his positions, it is belied by his conduct and those he picks to run things.

    • somethingblue

      Lesser evil is the only thing that is getting me to vote for Obama this time around.

      Little known fact: the voting machines do not actually tally your reasons for voting or your degree of enthusiasm in doing so. They just count the votes.*

      *May not apply in FL, OH or some parts of WI.

    • DrDick

      And as bad as Obama is, he is still very much the lesser of the evils by a large margin.

  • John

    Why go to Penny Pritzker for evidence that Obama is bad on education? Obama is bad on education in his own right, and seemingly because he believes in school reform bullshit, not because he’s been corrupted by Penny Pritzker’s money.

    It remains true, nonetheless, that there aren’t any issues on which Romney is better than Obama, and that even on education, the issue where I disagree with him most, Obama is still probably mostly better than Romney.

    • Steve LaBonne

      As much as I loathe Obama’s support for corporate education deform, that’s absolutely the case. And there’s no probably about it. Romney WOULD be worse, a lot worse. Eight years of Rethug control of all branches of the Federal government, and there’d be little left of public education at all.

      • Bart

        Don’t expect more than four years. Tax cuts alone have proven not to be enough to foster demand during the past 12 years.

        In 2016 we will be just where Shrub left us; still with a poisoned well.

  • david mizner

    You probably saw this piece in the Times detailing O’s “tricky” relationship with Pritzker, which has long angered unions.

    As far back as 2007, Mr. Obama recognized that his relationship with Ms. Pritzker could be tricky; when he asked her to be his national finance chairwoman, he called labor leaders to alert them, they later said in interviews.

    A standoff between labor and Hyatt hotels had been brewing for years over working conditions for housekeepers. By 2009, union officials decided to target Ms. Pritzker because of her ties to the president.

    “We thought that a person who would spend so much time raising money for a person who cares about working people as much as Obama” would treat low-level workers better, said John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here, the union that has led the fight.

    Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1 in Chicago, helped create a devastating campaign against Ms. Pritzker, even though she was just one member of the family and organization. He hired an impersonator who walked the picket line handing out plastic coins and shouting “Get back to work! Penny needs her billions!” according to The Chicago Tribune.


  • Marc

    How dare Obama do anything with anyone that Eric disapproves of. It’s not as if he’s leading a coalition of people who don’t agree on everything. Instead he has to shun and condemn anyone that has ever been associated with anything that some progressive group disagrees with. This is getting incredibly tiresome, pointless, and embarrassing.

    When I see hatchet jobs like this I’m reminded of the right wing and how they try to destroy people that they disagree with – by throwing together indictments that make someone like Rev. Wright look like a lunatic. This women is wealthy, but unlike many of her peers she’s supporting Obama instead of endorsing the extremist republican coalition. She’s not with liberals on everything, but she’s also clearly not some monster. Why treat her like one?

    • The Washington Generals

      “Man there’s a lot of gravel on the road. I’m going to pull off.”

      “That’s stupid, there’s no shoulder, just a tiny rail and a 3000 foot drop.”

      “(drives over edge) You know, the lesser of two evils is still… (car explodes in midair for no reason)”

      • Very Serious Person

        “Man, there’s a lot of gravel on the road. I’m going to pull off.”

        “That’s stupid, there’s no shoulder, just a tiny rail and a 3000 foot drop.”

        “Yeah, you’re right. I should stay on the road. Still, all this gravel isn’t very good. It should be cleared away.”

        “Silly man. Gravel is good for your car!”

    • Shorter Marc: “Stop criticizing the labor practices of rich Democrats! If those Hyatt housekeepers have to go back to work 3 days after a C-Section in order to line Pritzker’s pockets, then we should cut their time off to 2 days!”

      • Marc

        No. You’re attacking Obama for associating with people because they have a tangential relationship with other things that you disapprove of. Basically, it’s the equivalent of demanding that Obame reject association with anyone associated with, say, education reform – no matter their intentions, no matter their involvement. It’s mindless guilt by association.

        • No, I’m attacking Hyatt for their terrible housekeeping practices as well as addressing Pritzker’s anti-labor stance in general and noting that Obama is more likely to be influenced by anti-labor billionaires that fund his campaigns than the labor unions that he relies on to get out the vote. This is part of a series of posts about Hyatt and Pritzker that you either didn’t read or didn’t understand.

          And imagine that–I don’t want the president to be closely tied to anti-labor billionaires! I am shocked at my own moral monstrousness. How dare I wish the president fight for working people!

          I’ve never been so outraged at myself in my life.

          If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read.

        • mark f

          The New And Improved Tangent: Now a Dot Enclosed Within a Circle!

        • djw

          Marc, I’d characterize this rather differently. Of course, the Democratic party is a brokerage party, and contains union-supportive elements, union-neutral elements, and anti-union elements (along with actual unions). Unless there’s some sort of major reconfiguration in American politics coming soon, this is not likely to change. But, when we get right down to it, the actual actions of anti-union factions within the Democratic party (and she’s implicated now in two of those–the company she’s heavily invested in and sits on the board of, and the Chicago board of education’s attempts, which she supported, to evade honoring contracts) are not, in fact, popular within the union coalition. Shining a bright light on the relationships between anti-union elements of the Democratic coalition and important politicians is a crucial (if insufficient) strategy to attempt to limit their degree of influence within the party.

          Furthermore: From where I sit, two things seem indisputable:

          1) The employment practices of Hyatt that inspired the boycott are, in fact, shameful.

          2) Members of the board of directors of a company share some moral responsibility for the shameful and immoral behavior of those companies. (an exception might be if said member had made a serious attempt to mitigate or end this practice, and believes staying on the board to fight another day rather resigning would be a better path forward. But, of course, there’s no reason to think this exception applies in this case).

          You seem to take a position that requires you to reject (at least) one of those two premises. I’d be curious to know which one, and to here your reasons for rejecting it.

          • Marc

            I’m objecting to the five-minute hate business that is depressingly common on political blogs. Take someone that a lot of us have never heard of before. Insert some relationship that she had to some particular decisions that are also not broadly familiar, from sources who clearly have an axe to grind. Outrage!

            And then, when we get more details, we always seem to find out that the real situation was more complex. Or that the person in question actually opposed the action in question. Or that there were plenty of other things on which they were good people.

            The right does this over and over again. At this point I’ve been burned so many times on things like this that I’ve developed a basic suspicion: if someone is being made out to be a monster there is something missing from the picture.

            If you look over the NY Times article, for instance:


            you see a more complex and sympathetic person, and you also see the specific labor critiques of her. What I’d like to see is a whole picture of someone – and this is entirely possible.

            • So you are demanding political blogs become the New York Times?

              And no one is making out Penny Prtizker to be a “monster.” Rather, I am saying she is an anti-labor billionaire influential within the Democratic Party. I’m not sure how that is a picture of a monster.

              But that TImes article that you call so complex leaves out her anti-teacher union activities entirely. How complex and complete is that?

              If you put this outrage at political blogs toward, say, improving the lives of Hyatt housekeepers, it might be more useful.

              • Marc

                I’m not on the Hyatt board, so my ability to do anything for the employees is, shall we say, limited. But to the degree that I want to provide support I’d like to know that the people asking me to do so have done their homework.

                As far as anti-labor goes: the latest news that I could find on the contract negotiations in Chicago was at


                For example, I found out that the lost 4% raise was after the union successfully negotiated a very large salary increase prior to the Great Recession, and the union just rejected as inadequate an arbitrators recommendation of a 35 percent pay raise over 4 years. On the other side, the board wants a longer school day (which the US really does need), but isn’t interested in raising pay to get it. This doesn’t strike me as an angels and devils thing. Not everything that every union demands is automatically right.

                • Yes, UNITE-HERE hasn’t done their homework…….

                  I guess I’m just not going to be the moderate reasonable liberal you are demanding. And that’s fine. But let’s be clear here–given that you aren’t actually going to do anything, is there any reason to listen to your complaints about my coverage of labor issues?

                • Hogan

                  the union just rejected as inadequate an arbitrators recommendation of a 35 percent pay raise over 4 years.

                  Read more carefully. They didn’t reject just the pay recommendation; they rejected the whole report as dealing inadequately with issues other than teacher pay.

            • djw

              This strikes me as vague and evasive. She may be a wonderful person in many ways–I have no idea! But: she sits on the board of directors of a company doing something shameful and immoral. If these facts were wrong, that would be one thing, but you don’t seem to be disputing either of them.

              Your position now seems to be that we shouldn’t hold someone responsible for the practices of the company they own considerable shares and sit on the board of directors of if a) the person and/or practices in question are not widely known to the readership of the blog, and b) we have not done a thorough investigation to determine if this person is an all-things-considered Bad Person.

              I can’t even reconstruct an argument for (a); it’s a simply bizarre demand. As for (b), it might hold for a very different post, but not for the sort of criticism offered in either of these posts. To state the obvious, Erik has taken no position on if Pritzer is an all-things-considered bad person.

              I still wonder which of my above two premises you reject, and why. You’ve evaded my question. I also wonder what strategies to limit the influence of anti-union elements of the Democratic coalition you’d approve of, since you seem to view “exposure” and “shaming shameful labor practices” as off the table.

              • Marc

                I don’t have the sense that we’re even communicating. Here is a direct example. We’re told, from the link here, that we should oppose Pritkzker because she is a member of the Chicago school board and because she voted to remove a pay raise. This article didn’t mention that the original contract was in 2007, a lot of generous raises were already earned, and the economic collapse in 2008 hit the school budget hard. It’s just all “anti-union activism”, not “the Chicago school system has a 660 million dollar budget shortfall.” I didn’t have to go far in Google to find this out. It definitely seems as if labor relations are poisonous in the Chicago schools. It also seems that there are other reasons than simple union hating for why the school board did what they did.

                The Hyatt strike does seem different and it’s legit to ask what her role was there. It was the conflation of the two things that bothered me, and the fact that I quickly found out that I was not remotely getting close to the full story on the Chicago school situation from the linked story.

                • Hogan

                  This article didn’t mention that the original contract was in 2007, a lot of generous raises were already earned, and the economic collapse in 2008 hit the school budget hard.

                  That doesn’t mean the district gets to unilaterally void provisions of the contract they signed. Or tell me, what other bills are they allowed to not pay?

                • djw

                  What Hogan said. Broke governments and public sector unions have been renegotiating contracts based on new financial circumstances all over the country. It appears from the article she voted not to reopen negotiations but to unilaterally violate a contract. That’s absolutely damnable anti-union activity, and fair game for establishing a troubling pattern.

                • Bart

                  Her actions on the unions sound like classic Shock Doctrine, and fit in with Emmanuel’s doctrine: “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

                  As for her hotels, again I ask just how much money does this family need?

    • Cody

      I’m pretty sure Erik isn’t really criticizing Obama all that much about this. Most of his criticism is directed at Hyatt and the general politics.

      Also, it seems to be a Conservative idea that you can’t criticize anything without wishing to destroy it. This simply isn’t true.

      Ex: Obama
      Left: I really really wish he would stand up for Unions, but all I can do is try to influence him further to the Left.

      Right: His policies are exactly like ours! We should destroy everything he touches, filibuster, and imply he’s a socialist and/or Kenyan national! DESTROY! DESTROY!

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