Monday, August 23, 2010

Film on closure of East Chicago factory reveals Chicago's Pritzker Family at center of subsidy controversy

From Unite Here Local 1:

Chicago, IL – Tonight, over one hundred labor, community and political leaders gathered at the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago for the Chicago premiere of Show us the Tax Breaks. This short film tells the story of how the Pritzker Family's Union Tank Car company gathered millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies while destroying good, family-sustaining jobs in Northwest Indiana. As the film demonstrates, Union Tank Car's actions serve as a sharp example of the problems that arise when companies are able to collect economic development subsidies without creating any new jobs.

Union Tank Car’s primary manufacturing facility in East Chicago, Indiana provided more than 600 middle-class jobs for decades before closing in May 2008. Two years earlier, the company built a new $100 million plant in Alexandria, Louisiana with the help of a package of taxpayer subsidies worth $65 million. Although state officials had expected the new plant to employ 850 workers and spur further development in central Louisiana, it now reportedly employs about 270 workers.

The film points to a deepening crisis for companies owned by the Pritzker Family, whose collective wealth is estimated to exceed $15 billion and who have become an emblematic obstacle to our nation’s recovery. Hyatt, the Chicago-based hotel company owned by the Pritzker Family, has forced thousands of hotel workers to endure staff cuts, reduced hours and excessive injury rates despite having $1.2 billion in cash and equivalents in reserve and recently cashing out over $900 million in its initial public offering.

Kelly Hounshell, who had worked at Union Tank Car's East Chicago plant for 22 years as a head burner before the plant closed, said that “I don't want to see more companies taking advantage of their workers and their communities like Union Tank Car did to us.”

“Just as Union Tank Car threw hundreds of manufacturing workers in Northwest Indiana into poverty simply because it got a better deal elsewhere, Hyatt is needlessly trying to take more away and lock workers into recession contracts even as the economy rebounds,” said UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin.

Last year, President Obama established a Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB) and tasked it, among other things, with tax simplification; closing tax loopholes; creating jobs, and improving the long-term prosperity of the American people. Penny Pritzker, whose family’s companies have made a fortune by collecting economic development subsidies while eliminating family-sustaining jobs, sits on the board.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.