More than 100 workers, advocates, and students launched a boycott of the Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel on Thursday evening to support DoubleTree employees in their efforts to unionize.
The boycott comes after a majority of workers at the hotel signed a petition last March to launch the process of deciding whether to join UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based union that represents Harvard’s dining hall employees. The protesting workers hope that Hilton will be more receptive to their preferred means of unionization if Harvard pressures them. The hotel is not operated by the University but is located in a Harvard-owned building.
“We need the hotel and Harvard to listen to us and...we think a boycott will make them listen to what we need,” said Sandra Hernandez, a DoubleTree employee of 22 years, who spoke through a translator at the rally.
The rally attracted four Cambridge City Council members and dozens Harvard students, according to Gabriel H. Bayard '15. They gathered at the John Harvard statue and marched together to the Doubletree to join the rally. DoubleTree workers and advocates will ask prospective guests not to eat, sleep, or meet at their hotel, according to a press release by UNITE HERE! Local 26.
The boycott has earned the support of the Harvard Undergraduate Council and Harvard Graduate School Council. However, Harvard's director of labor relations, Bill Murphy, said in a statement on Thursday that the University maintains that the issue should be resolved between the union and the employer, in this instance UNITE HERE! Local 26 and Hilton.
“The University will support any fair process for unionization that is agreed upon between Hilton and Local 26,” Murphy said.
The issue arises because there are two different ways workers can unionize. The traditional way involves a National Labor Relations Board election in which a union will be formed if 50 percent of workers cast ballots in favor of unionization. The other way, which is preferred by the protesting DoubleTree workers, is a fair process vote in which workers can sign a card at any time that allows a union to be formed, which requires the consent of the employer.
According to a Hilton Worldwide spokesperson, the company does not believe that a true majority of Doubletree workers wish to be represented by any union for the purposes of collective bargaining.
“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 National Labor Relations Board,” the Hilton spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Supporters of the fair process think otherwise.
“All campus workers are guaranteed a fair process—this has been an established tradition at Harvard,” said Blake A. McGhghy ’17, a Student Labor Action Movement member who attended the boycott rally. McGhghy said that Harvard plays a “crucial role” in the issue because it is the primary owner of the building that contains the hotel and makes $20 million per year from the hotel.
Anastacia M. Valdespino ’17, another SLAM member who picketed outside the DoubleTree Thursday afternoon, said that because DoubleTree administrators can choose the date of an NLRB election, there is a risk that that they would schedule the election so that many workers would not be able to participate.
“I think the boycott will be successful in getting Harvard to see that they definitely have an accountability to this issue,” Valdespino said. “As an investor in this hotel, ideally this should open Harvard’s eyes to put some pressure on the DoubleTree and to get the fair process going.”
—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.