The Student Labor Action Movement held a celebration Tuesday afternoon in response to Harvard’s recent decision not to reinvest in HEI Hotels & Resorts, a hotel chain that has come under fire for repeated allegations of failure to comply with labor regulations.
Approximately 25 people, including SLAM members, union organizers, and workers marched from the Science Center to Memorial Hall to hand out fliers, proceeding through the Yard and gathering in front of Massachusetts Hall.
SLAM member Iman E. James ’12 said that Tuesday’s event had originally been planned as a protest of Harvard’s investment in HEI, before the University disclosed the news of its decision not to reinvest in HEI.
“I see it as a celebration,” James said. “It’s a great thing.”
James added that she hoped Harvard’s decision would urge HEI to change their labor practices.
Karen A. Narefsky ’11, a former SLAM member who attended the event, said that she participated in the 2008 protest, when Harvard students first began campaigning for the University to reconsider its investment in HEI.
“It’s been a pretty up-and-down campaign,” Narefsky said. “It has really taken continual pressure on the University. I was really happy to hear about it.”
In an email to University President Drew G. Faust, Jane Mendillo, CEO and president of the Harvard Management Company, said HMC had decided not to reinvest in HEI. According to the email, the decision not to reinvest resulted from “factors related to the HMC portfolio and its strategy and needs,” rather than HEI’s labor practices.
The University declined to comment further on the decision.
James said that the congregation on Tuesday was “also in solidarity with the workers at the Le Meridien,” referring to the HEI-owned Cambridge hotel on Sidney Street, near the MIT campus. According to speakers at the SLAM event, a delegation of around 30 workers and 10 students approached the general manager of the hotel asking for a “fair process” for the workers to determine whether they want a union.
Karen Burkart, an organizer for the union that represents Harvard’s dining hall workers, said that the petition for a “fair process” meant only that the workers were asking not to be intimidated by the management.
Burkart said that although she was pleased about Harvard’s decision not to reinvest in HEI, the University still has a stake in its practices, because “Harvard has already given them a lot of money.”
David Vermillion, a public relations professional who works with HEI, wrote in an email statement that the type of process proposed by the petition “strips our employees of their democratic rights, which we cannot support.”
Vermillion said that Le Meridien respects employees’ rights to a process that allows for free choice and protects workers from intimidation from outside parties, including unions.
“HEI enjoys a strong, positive relationship with out employees at the Le Meridien and we respect their right to elect union representation through a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board.”
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.