About 60 protesters gathered in front of the Smith Campus Center on Thursday afternoon to encourage the University to support the unionization efforts of employees at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston, which is housed in a Harvard-owned building.
The rally stems from a petition that a majority of workers at the hotel signed in March to begin the formal process of deciding whether to join UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based union that currently represents Harvard’s dining hall employees. Pro-union workers at the Doubletree—purchased by Harvard in 2005 but managed by Hilton—conducted the rally to urge the University to support their push for unionization, which Hilton management has not officially endorsed, according to protesters.
A combination of DoubleTree employees, Harvard employees and students, and representatives from local labor unions took part in the rally.
At the rally, organizer Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, who wrote a report detailing the working conditions at the DoubleTree, shared his findings that working conditions at the DoubleTree are far worse than those of Harvard employees.
“It’s like two different worlds, as if the Charles River divides the people who have the right to be treated well and the people who do not have that right, and I thought that was unfair,” Bayard said.
Later, participants marched from the Smith Campus Center to Massachusetts Hall, where recently re-elected Cambridge city councillor Leland Cheung spoke in support of the workers’ desire for unionization.
Thus far, pro-union workers have been unable to secure the support of hotel management in pursuing the unionization process that they desire, and the University has declined to participate in the ongoing unionization discussions.
According to Local 26 organizer Rachel Kleinbaum, the workers have not yet received a response from hotel management. The only response that they have received, she said, came from the University in the form of a letter from Labor Relations Director Bill Murphy, who wrote that Harvard “respectfully declines Local 26’s request for the University to insert itself into this organizing campaign.”
In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Murphy stated that the University “respects the legal process that calls for labor issues, including issues surrounding union organizing, to be resolved by the union and the employer.”
“Consistently, the University will support any fair process for unionization that is agreed upon between Hilton and Local 26,” he wrote.
A spokesperson from Hilton Worldwide wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson, that although Hilton supports workers’ right to unionize, the hotel management does not believe that a true majority of DoubleTree workers want to unionize. The spokesperson also indicated the Hilton’s preference for an alternative method to the card check neutrality agreement, the petition-signers’ desired method of confirming that a majority of workers wish to unionize.
“The appropriate and fairest process for determining whether a majority of employees wish to be represented is through a secret ballot election conducted by the NLRB,” the spokesperson wrote, referring to the National Labor Relations Board.
Richard B. Freeman, a Harvard economics professor and faculty co-director of the Labor and Worklife Program at the Law School, said that he believed that even though Harvard does not directly employ the DoubleTree workers, it still must step in and support the workers’ right to a fair process.
“It’s an amoral cop out,” Freeman said. “The wealthy corporation at the top of the supply chain still has some responsibility to the other people.”
—Staff writer Christine Y. Cahill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cycahill16.
This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:
CLARIFICATION: November 25, 2013
An earlier version of this article stated that the DoubleTree Suites hotel is Harvard-owned. To clarify, the company is housed in a Harvard-owned building.