Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston last Wednesday to advocate for the unionization of the hotel’s workers. Many on hand noted that the rally was by far the largest yet in support of the workers.
The protesters included hotel employees, Harvard students, Cambridge city councillors, and hundreds of visitors who were in Boston for a convention of UNITE HERE!, the labor union that DoubleTree workers are seeking to join. The union already represents many of Harvard’s dining hall workers.
While the hotel is not operated by Harvard, it is located in a building it owns, causing many protesters to direct their criticism at the University.
“What Harvard is doing, hiding behind essentially a subcontractor and saying that they do not have responsibility in this matter, is in my opinion completely wrong and cowardly on their part,” Cambridge City Councillor Marc C. McGovern said.
In April, the Cambridge City Council voted unanimously to support a boycott of the hotel and to back the workers’ efforts to unionize using a process that involves the open signing of authorization cards that state an individual wishes unionize. Hilton has thus far has insisted that employees vote through a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
Protesters said they hoped that it would bring attention to the what they consider the lack of a fair process being offered to workers.
“We think that Harvard on campus has some of the best labor relations and contracts around,” said Gabriel H. Bayard ‘15, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement. “DoubleTree workers deserve the same respect that workers get on campus, and we’re here to fight for it.”
Bayard and other activists contended that the secret ballot proposal allows management to manipulate the votes of workers by only scheduling anti-union workers for shifts on voting day and scheduling meetings to intimidate individual workers.
“I think you see a lot of people disenfranchised in certain voting practices,” Cambridge City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said. “I think its important when you see this big showing that management recognizes the right of workers to organize in specific ways.”
Though the protest and hotel are located across the river from Harvard’s Cambridge campus, protesters and union leaders said that the University still has a responsibility as the hotel’s landlord to aid the employees.
Janice Loux, executive vice president of UNITE HERE!, said that the union took time from its conference to protest at the hotel “to help the Hilton workers and to fight Harvard.”
“It’s unconscionable that Harvard has not settled this issue,” Loux said. “They have a commitment to helping those less fortunate than themselves. Where I come from, the landlord is always in charge.”
Though protesters urged Harvard to intervene in support of the workers’ unionization efforts, University spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke maintained that the University will support whichever voting process the hotel management and employees agree to.