Three years ago, the private equity hotelier HEI Hotels & Resorts bought Le Meridien hotel in Cambridge Central Square. Under the new management, employees say that the working conditions have steadily declined. This past summer, a survey of workers at the Le Meridien in Cambridge found that 93 percent of workers surveyed believe HEI does not care about their well-being and that nearly 85 percent of workers do not believe they have adequate supplies or are given the appropriate amount of time to deliver high-quality guest service. Further, 94 percent of workers say that working conditions have not gotten better since HEI took over management of the hotel.
In October, workers at the Le Meridien Cambridge called on management to agree to a fair process for them to decide whether to form a union—the same process used by workers in hotels across the United States. HEI management refused the workers' demand. Now, the workers have called a boycott on the hotel until management agrees to grant the workers a fair process. These workers depend on tips from customers as part of their income; the fact that the workers are boycotting their own hotel goes to show just how serious this situation is.
Every Thursday, hotel workers, union organizers, and community stakeholders all come together and picket outside the Le Meridien Cambridge. They call for hotel guests to support the worker-led boycott by checking out of the hotel.
The University has participated in multiple rounds of investment with HEI Hospitality, the second of which is still ongoing. While Harvard Management Company announced this past April that it would not reinvest University funds in any future rounds of fundraising after campus activism surrounding HEI’s troubling labor practices, the money HEI used to purchase the Le Meridien Cambridge likely came from a fund Harvard was invested in, meaning that our university is probably invested in this hotel. (The actual message announcing non-reinvestment cited financial reasons for non-reinvestment, rather than ethical, although Brown University issued a similar statement declaring that it would not reinvest in HEI due to poor labor standards.)
While any Harvard funds currently invested in Le Meridien are already spoken for, the many student organizations and other Harvard-affiliated groups who patronize the hotel’s services have much more control over their association with Le Meridien and HEI. Like other organizations across Boston, the City of Cambridge itself has joined in on the boycott. The City Council voted unanimously in October to boycott the hotel’s services—including using it as the reception space for its biennial swearing-in ceremony—until “it has been confirmed that HEI changes its practices and treats its workers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Harvard student groups (including the Harvard Debate Council, which has 45 rooms rented out for their February debate tournament), conferences, and departments booking event spaces or hosting out-of-town guests should follow this lead, echoing the City of Cambridge’s commitment to supporting workplaces that are both safe and fair. We urge all groups on campus to stand with Le Meridian workers by publicly supporting the ongoing boycott and by taking their groups’ business to other local hotels with fair union processes and strong labor practices. A union hotel guide put out by Hotel Workers Rising suggests possible alternatives to dine, sleep, or meet, which include the Courtyard by Marriott, the Fairmonts in Battery Wharf and Copley Plaza, the Omni Parker, the InterContinental, the Ritz Carlton, and the W Boston.
The Student Labor Action Movement stands in solidarity with the workers at the Le Meridien fighting HEI’s unethical labor practices in unfair layoffs, mistreatment of workers, and union busting. In our commitment, we endorse the ongoing boycott of the HEI-managed Le Meridien Cambridge and San Francisco hotels. We urge all others—especially Harvard student groups that often book rooms in hotels like the Le Meridien—to join us. Please do not dine, sleep or meet in these hotels until the labor dispute has been resolved and the workers have been awarded the justice and equality that they deserve.
Joshua D. Blecher-Cohen ‘16 lives in Mower Hall. Lydia E. B. Federico ‘16 lives in Matthews Hall. Kirin Gupta ‘16 lives in Wigglesworth Hall. All three are members of the Harvard Student Labor Action Movement.