Hotel workers, activists, and students gathered in front of Cambridge City Hall Thursday afternoon to protest what they characterized as unfair labor practices at the Le Méridien hotel in Cambridge.
Brandishing inflatable clapper sticks, signs, and drums, the protesters, who included Harvard undergraduates, chanted “No Justice, No Peace” in between delivered speeches.
According to organizers, employees at Le Méridien have been seeking a path to unionization for more than a year, but have been blocked by the hotel’s owner, HEI Hotels & Resorts. HEI, which uses investments from university endowments and other funding sources to buy, streamline, and resell hotels, has faced repeated allegations of failure to comply with labor regulations.
Harvard announced in spring 2012 that it would join several of its peer institutions, including Yale, Princeton, and Brown, in deciding not to reinvest in funds managed by HEI. Harvard Management Company President and CEO Jane L. Mendillo indicated at the time that the decision not to reinvest was rooted in “factors related to the HMC portfolio and its strategy and needs,” rather than as a response to criticism of HEI’s labor practices.
On Thursday, a year after Harvard’s move, protesters said their work in supporting HEI employees is far from finished.
“The HEI fight has been a long fight,” said Alex L. Chen ’16, a Student Labor Action Movement member who attended the protest.
Although the Le Méridien workers themselves are not unionized, the protest was organized by UNITE HERE! Local 26, a labor union that represents workers throughout Massachusetts, including Harvard’s dining hall workers.
Bob Boudreau, an employee of Le Méridien, was one of many who expressed his dissatisfaction at the hotel’s response to recent unionization attempts. He noted that Le Méridien employees wanted both an “agreement for neutrality on the part of the hotel” and “an agreement that they won’t appeal the decision” once provided with a path to unionization.
SLAM member Gabriel H. Bayard ’15 said he was pleasantly surprised by the turnout to the event, which organizers estimated at more than 400 people.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Bayard said.
Protesting students said they saw the rally as a small part of a greater struggle for hospitality workers’ rights throughout Boston and Cambridge. Some attendees called on Harvard to actively support the Le Méridien workers as they seek unionization.
“The Cambridge City Council already backs the boycott,” said Chen, referencing a unanimous vote in October 2012 that resulted in the city of Cambridge boycotting all services provided by Le Méridien. “Harvard should do the same.”
Attendee Matthew E. Stolz ’14 said that the organizers’ “bigger project” was working to help employees of the Harvard-owned DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston as they, too, consider unionization.
Last month, DoubleTree workers declared that they would start the process of considering unionization and demanded that Harvard grant them fair process to make that decision.
—Staff writer David W. Kaufman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DKauf.
Cambridge Boycotts Local HotelA sea of red T-shirts flooded City Hall Monday night as workers from Le Méridien hotel in Cambridge gathered to protest their working conditions and to ask that the city of Cambridge boycott all services provided by the hotel.
Boycott Le Meridien Cambridge!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.
Let Them UnionizeNo one questions HEI’s right to own and operate hotels and resorts. Yet to prevent workers from using their only leverage point—their numbers—to improve their negotiating position strikes against basic notions of fairness.
Harvard’s Hotel, Harvard’s StandardsWhile the University upholds admirable standards for its on-campus employees, it does not demand that those employed by its off-campus holdings be offered the same level of protection.
Harvard, Be a Responsible Owner!Our commitment to transparency, fairness, sustainability, and human dignity should not end at Harvard’s gates. Harvard must be a responsible owner of all its investments, particularly of the companies in which it owns a controlling stake
Protesters Support Unionization Efforts of DoubleTree EmployeesAbout 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.