Hotel Waitress Protests Conditions

University endowments fund company accused of unfair management

Unnamed photo
Meredith H. Keffer

Elizabeth Martinez, an employee of HEI Hotels and Resorts, speaks to students about the fight for labor rights and Harvard’s investment, yesterday afternoon at Phillips Brooks House.

Elizabeth Martinez, a hotel worker from California, shared her experiences as an employee and a labor organizer with Harvard students in a discussion yesterday organized by the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement.

Martinez has been working as a waitress at the Hilton Hotel in Long Beach, Calif. for 11 years. She said that working conditions have degenerated since the management of the hotel was turned over four years ago to HEI Hotels and Resorts, a company supported by funds from various university endowments.

“The way they manage those hotels is just horrible,” Martinez said.

“Before, when it was the Hilton, we had double the employees. Now they are trying to do the job with half the people.”

According to Martinez, some of the workers began to organize, looking to join a union in order to better voice their objections. About four months ago, the workers went public with their intentions to unionize.

“Since then, it’s been a nightmare in the company,” Martinez said. “They are really watching us. They give us write-ups for everything we do. If you take your lunch break and [go over] by one minute they make it a big deal.”

Martinez said the union movement amongst employees at the Long Beach Hilton has been weakened by fears of more severe retribution from HEI,

“I go to work everyday thinking, ‘Is it going to be today that you tell me I don’t have a job anymore?’” Martinez said.

Working with the national union UNITE HERE, Martinez has been visiting colleges that are financially linked to HEI.

Martinez said her goal is to influence schools to stop supporting HEI. “All they care about is money.”

HEI is almost completely funded by investments from university endowments, including Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, according to John F. Bowman ’11, one of the leaders of the campaign against HEI within SLAM.

SLAM is planning to send a delegation to the Harvard Management Company to try to influence Harvard to reconsider its investment in HEI.

“As Harvard students it’s our responsibility to find out what’s going on and let the Harvard Management Company know how Harvard’s money is affecting labor in America,” Bowman said.

“It is important for them to see that Harvard students are concerned about what’s going on, because ultimately it’s the students that the Harvard Management Company is working for.”