Housekeepers at the Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel went on strike on Thursday and staged a rally in the Science Center Plaza to protest working conditions at the hotel and pressure Hilton to agree to their preferred means of unionization.
The strike marks the culmination of over a year of campaigning organized by UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based union that represents Harvard’s dining hall employees, and the Student Labor Action Movement. Workers and protesters have consistently appealed to Harvard, which owns the hotel building in Allston but does not operate it, to help them pressure Hilton. The University has maintained that the issue should be resolved between the union and the employer.
The Doubletree campaign began after a majority of workers at the hotel signed a petition in March 2013 to launch the process of deciding whether to join Local 26. The traditional method of unionization involves a single vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The protesting DoubleTree workers are seeking a fair process vote in which workers can cast ballots at any time—a method that they argue is more conducive to their shift schedules but that can only be conducted with the consent of Hilton, their employer.
The hotel continued normal operations on Thursday morning, according to a Hilton Worldwide spokesperson.
“19 of the 23 housekeeping department team members scheduled to come to work this morning chose to report in,” the Hilton spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
Yet SLAM and Local 26 union advocates maintained that a “majority” of housekeepers joined the strike.
Despite the quickly receding daylight and near-freezing temperature on Thursday evening, hundreds of activists gathered in the Science Center Plaza to draw attention to the cause and rally more supporters in the Harvard community.
Hotel workers asserted at the rally that they have suffered pain and injury on the job that have been received with passivity from hotel managers. Union representatives from the Boston area, University students, and community advocates paraded around the plaza chanting “Si se puede” and “No more pain.”
Housekeeper Nelson Labor, who has worked at the hotel for nine years but has taken the last three months off due to a back injury incurred on the job, said he was thankful for the outpouring of support.
“Things have gotten better since we started fighting,” Labor said. “They are listening to us because we’ve been fighting, but they haven’t given us what we want, which is the fair process, and we hope today will get us closer.”
The rally also drew a number of College students, some labor activists and others who stumbled upon the protest. Kareli Osorio ’18 said the stories reminded her of her father, who works long hours installing carpet.
“Whenever I hear these workers’ stories, it’s kind of the same deal,” Osorio said over the beating drums and whistles of the rally. “Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be a housekeeper and experience this pain, but I know what it’s like for their children and their families, and I don’t think anyone deserves that.”
Advocates also collected over 2,200 signatures from Harvard students and affiliates in support of the DoubleTree employees, according to SLAM member Gabriel H. Bayard ’15.
As of Thursday night, the DoubleTree hotel had taken no disciplinary or legal action against the striking workers.
“Tomorrow, we’ll see,” Bayard said. “We expect the hotel to respect the workers’ demands and respect that they are going on strike today.”
—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.