Undergraduate Organizing Committee: Explaining our sit-in

The Undergraduate Organizing Committee is grateful for the News’ coverage of our activities, but in the face of the accusations made by Kate Maltby and the misunderstandings that could have dictated such a response, we would like to take this opportunity to explain more fully the context in which Tuesday’s sit-in took place.

Jose Landino, a cook who works at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel in California, came to our campus this week to inform the Yale community of the conditions he faces under the management of HEI Hotels & Resorts. Yale invests in HEI, having contributed at least $120 million to the company over the past four years. Landino crossed the country to represent the international union UNITE HERE, which is working with him and his fellow workers to organize a union at Long Beach.

He came to speak at the kickoff event for a new group here on campus, the Responsible Endowment Project, despite the fact that a colleague of his who went to talk at Brown and Harvard two weeks ago faced a two-hour interrogation from her supervisor upon her return. He came because he is actively trying to improve working conditions for himself and his co-workers, and because he believes that student solidarity at Yale has a positive role to play in this situation.

On Monday night, at the REP’s kickoff event, Landino told an audience of 200 about increased workloads for housekeepers in his hotel, the unresponsiveness of managers to injuries caused by these increased workloads, and the inability for workers to receive treatment for these injuries because of prohibitively high premiums. He also related how his and his coworkers’ attempts to organize into a union in order to address these issues collectively have been consistently undermined by intimidation from management.

Landino felt, however, that his time here would not be fully utilized without attempting to relay his concerns to the Investments Office. A few members of our group had already attempted to approach the University about HEI through the published bureaucratic routes. These students first made a formal presentation to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility on Oct. 28, which told them that it does not do fact-finding and so it would be unable to further investigate the matter. Students sent letters to the Investments Office, President Levin and the Yale Corporation requesting a meeting. When responses were not received, they decided to go to the Investments Office, where Alex Banker, one of the office’s directors, briefly and reluctantly listened to their concerns. During this encounter, Mr. Banker continuously questioned the credibility of students’ claims about HEI working conditions and refused to have a serious discussion, repeatedly directing them to the ACIR, which had already proved a dead end. So the UOC agreed to accompany Landino, hoping his testimony about HEI working conditions would be treated more seriously.

On Tuesday morning at 9:30, Landino went to the fifth floor of 55 Whitney Ave. with three undergraduates, while 20 other students waited outside. Landino was asked to leave the office after trying to explain the situation to the receptionist, at which point the students waiting outside began to stream upstairs. An office employee came out to talk to us, but after a couple of minutes he cut Landino off, saying he had work to do. He told us he wasn’t allowed to comment on Yale’s investments, nor was there anyone else who would do so, nor could he listen to Landino and pass on what he heard. He told us our only option was to go back to the ACIR. He also informed us that if we didn’t leave, the police would be called.

The police came but they never told us to leave. On the contrary, over the next three hours they repeatedly assured us that they were trying to set up a meeting. At 1:30 a meeting had still not been set and Landino had to leave to make it back to California to start his shift at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning. And so we filed out, leaving a letter stating our discontent at being ignored and our determination not to give up.

The UOC was not demanding instant gratification and did not in any way seek to shut down or hinder the work of the Investment Office. The students who were present represented a diverse group: Some have been working on workers’ rights since they arrived here; others had never been to a UOC meeting but were moved enough to demonstrate their support. Not one of us is ungrateful for the opportunity to study at Yale; to the contrary, we fully appreciate the chance we have been given and consider it a duty as Yalies for life to engage with the ethics of Yale’s investments.

Is this really too radical for Yale?

Katie Harrison is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Gideon Mausner is a sophomore in Pierson College. Timmia Hearn Feldman is a freshman in Morse College.

Comments

  • apod

    Well said.

  • Alum

    "The UOC was not demanding instant gratification and did not in any way seek to shut down or hinder the work of the Investment Office."

    You actually did hinder the work of the Investments Office - you took up the time of one of the employees and tried to take up time of additional employees. Yale has established the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility as a mechanism for considering your concerns, as explained by Professor Macey in his column today. You assert that is a dead-end but don't explain why, while Professor Macey makes clear that the door is open for you to pursue your concerns.

    But when you go to make that case, you better do your homework. No one is going to act based on the say-so of one union organizer who seems to have persuaded you of the merits of the union's position. If you want to pursue this, you need to study and develop the facts, taking into account the views of all the relevant parties. If that seems too cumbersome and time consuming to you, well maybe you should focus your energies elsewhere.

  • Just Curious

    Who footed Mr. Landino's airfare?

  • Another Alum

    The patronizing comment by "Alum" above totally misses the point of the important work these students are doing.

    "You actually did hinder the work of the Investments Office - you took up the time of one of the employees and tried to take up time of additional employees."

    This is laughably question-begging. The whole point is that taking seriously the moral consequences of what they do should be part of "the work of the Investments Office." It should be part of the work we all do, whatever our professions. So to call it a hindrance misses the point.

    "You assert that the ACIR is a dead-end but don't explain why, while Professor Macey makes clear that the door is open for you to pursue your concerns."

    The students say explicitly in this very op-ed that they received a response from "the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility on Oct. 28, which told them that it does not do fact-finding and so it would be unable to further investigate the matter." Professor Macey doesn't dispute this characterization of the meeting or clarify the fact-finding powers of the ACIR in his piece.

    These students deserve praise and thanks for the important work they're doing -- all the more so because they have to do it in a climate of such instinctive and unthinking skepticism and criticism.

  • WTF?

    Someone needs to recognize a load of b.s. when they hear it, rather than repeat it in print and look foolish:

    "Landino told an audience of 200 about increased workloads for housekeepers in his hotel, the unresponsiveness of managers to injuries caused by these increased workloads, and the inability for workers to receive treatment for these injuries because of prohibitively high premiums."

    If Mr. Landino or other workers are injured on the job, all states require that the worker receives treatment through the workers' compensation system. The employer pays 100% of the workers' compensation premium. An employee does not use personal insurance, or even his/her employer's health insurance, to receive treatment.

    In addition to asking "poor" Mr. Landino who footed his airfare, someone should have asked WTF? when he made this absurd claim.

  • re: WTF?

    States can require whatever they like; it doesn't make any difference unless employers respect the law. I think it's been established that HEI doesn't pay the NLRA or health and safety laws too much heed.

  • to apod

    My guess is the union. Ditto on the workers comp comment. The guy sounds suspicious. Does he represent the majority or is this just some crazy guy? Also, if things are that bad, why don't they go to the government agencies that handle these things?

  • ALum'81

    I believe this is the same union that was recently ordered to pay CINTAS $5 million for illegally obtaining license plate numbers and personal information on employees to use in organizing efforts. I would be careful in giving much credence to someone just flying in like this to push Yalies into a protest. You students should do a little more research into the union and perhaps talk to management before such actions.

  • Hieronymus

    Mr. Landino is free, I am sure, to secure better employ elsewhere.

    As for the UOC: get OVER yourselves! Despite what your parents have told you, the universe does NOT revolve around 4-year residents of our fair community.

  • hahaha

    "Is this really too radical for Yale?"

    What a load of self-important crap. I almost gagged after reading this sentence. I hope you "radicals" enjoy trust-fund supported post-graduate hipster life in West Bushwick, Brooklyn.

  • Woodward and Bernstein

    Hey, YDN: perhaps it would be worthwhile for you, as a sidebar to whatever follows from this, to set a reporter to the task of figuring out how it came to be that Mr. Landino made his way to Yale. Did he reach out to the UOC? Did the UOC reach out to him? What's his history in Long Beach/LAX area labor disputes? Hint: check Google. Reasonable people can understand the activist impulse, especially where students are concerned, but the UOC should be guided by the same principles of transparency they insist should govern the YIO.

  • PC '10 (2)

    I disagree with anyone that says YPMB's humor is too profane and "taints" the Ivy League. If anything, the comedy is way too intellectual (half-time shows and communism don't really mix).

    More penis jokes!

  • Voice of Reason

    Please, Mr. Duffy, get a life.

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