"Without Penny Pritzker," The New York Times reports in a captivating article this weekend, "it is unlikely that Barack Obama ever would have been elected to the United States Senate or the presidency."
Pritzker, heiress to the Hyatt fortune and a huge mover/shaker in Chicago politics and society, has been one of Obama's most productive fundraisers over the years. But since the Democratic coalition depends not only on enlightened cajillionaires but on organized labor heavies like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), sometimes the ol' interests conflict. Put some Jiffy Pop in the microwave, and enjoy the show:
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 of Unite, the group that has led the fight.
Henry Tamarin, a longtime organizer, 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.
In September, after Hyatt fired 100 housekeepers at nonunion hotels near Boston and replaced them with low-wage subcontractors, labor organizers flew a fired worker to confront Ms. Pritzker at a public appearance in Chicago. As she served on White House councils alongside Richard L. Trumka, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, his organization released a video that cast her as a villainess who hurt rather than helped the economy. […]
"I feel a personal connection with the employees at the hotel company," Ms. Pritzker said in the interview. "The union attacks — it hurts. I don't like it. It should be an issue between Hyatt and the unions, not become something personal to me."
The story's best quote comes from former SEIU leader and current Obama besty Andy Stern:
"There is a huge unresolved set of issues in the Democratic Party between people of wealth and people who work," said Andy Stern, a labor leader. "Penny is a living example of that issue."