Undergraduate Organizing Committee: Yale should pressure HEI to change policies

Last week, students in the Undergraduate Organizing Committee collected almost 300 valentines for President Levin. On each one, students expressed their love for Yale and their support for workers at HEI Hotels & Resorts, in which Yale is a major investor.

“I love Yale because [insert anything here, such as ‘I just had a conversation about the intricacies of the subjunctive’], but I would love Yale more if it would support the rights of HEI Hotel workers to organize free from employer intimidation.” The message was clear: We are grateful to be Yale students, but we believe the Yale community must respect the rights of workers, especially those whose work generates profit for our school.

Hotel housekeepers across the country have workloads that cause them serious injury. Required to clean 15 or more rooms a day, housekeepers suffer from serious back, knee, shoulder and wrist injuries. In a recent survey conducted by Unite Here, of more than 600 hotel housekeepers in the United States and Canada, 91 percent said that they have suffered work-related pain. Of those who reported workplace pain, 77 percent said their workplace pain interfered with routine activities, two out of every three workers visited their doctor to deal with workplace pain, and 66 percent took pain medication just to work enough to achieve their daily quota.

Few housekeepers can afford the health care they desperately need. One option open to them and their colleagues at the hotels where they work is to exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively. Once they win union recognition, the employees have a powerful tool in the fight to win a living wage and affordable health care, not to mention reasonable workloads that do not cause serious chronic injuries.

HEI is a hotel management company that buys existing hotels, cuts operating costs and sells the hotels 10 years later, profiting from increases in real estate value. Yale is a major private investor in HEI, having invested over $119 million in the company, according to SEC documents. For workers in HEI-owned hotels, “cut operating costs” means increased workloads, which for housekeepers means more stress on the job and a higher risk of getting hurt, in some cases for reduced wages and cut benefits. These employees, who often have little individual bargaining power, formal education or proficiency in English, are left vulnerable to abuse of their rights.

Workers at HEI hotels in San Francisco and Los Angeles are standing up for these reasons. Under law, managers are technically required to respect workers’ right to organize, yet in practice such protections are weak and rarely enforced. HEI has fired several pro-union workers in San Francisco, including one who traveled last semester to meet with students at other universities invested in HEI. In Los Angeles, a worker who visited campuses was subjected to a nearly two-hour interrogation by management upon her return. HEI has repeatedly refused to respect workers’ calls for a process to choose whether to sign up with the union without fear of intimidation or reprisal.

The Yale endowment should invest in companies that create true value for society, not in companies that increase workloads to dangerous levels. Yale’s investments have social and environmental impacts that affect both the investment’s rate of return and the University’s reputation. The Investments Office needs to engage the management of HEI and make a clear public statement opposing the intimidation and unfair treatment of the workers and supporting their right to organize.

The students in the UOC believe that we as a community need to take responsibility for the investments that make Yale what it is. We presented our case to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility and are hopeful that an ongoing dialogue with them will be productive. In working to support the rights of hotel workers at HEI, we also hope to uphold the standards of this institution.

Hans Schoenburg and Rebecca Eisenbrey are members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee. They are, respectively, a junior in Morse College and a senior in Timothy Dwight College.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    "Hotel housekeepers across the country have workloads that cause them serious injury. Required to clean 15 or more rooms a day, housekeepers suffer from serious back, knee, shoulder and wrist injuries. In a recent survey conducted by Unite Here, of more than 600 hotel housekeepers in the United States and Canada, 91 percent said that they have suffered work-related pain. Of those who reported workplace pain, 77 percent said their workplace pain interfered with routine activities, two out of every three workers visited their doctor to deal with workplace pain, and 66 percent took pain medication just to work enough to achieve their daily quota. "

    What separates these people from movers, construction workers, cargo loaders, and any other person that works in a physically demanding profession?
    Should Yale not invest in these companies either?
    How about the NFL? Lots of NFL athletes suffer from pain both during and long after their career, so I guess Yale shouldn't invest in the NFL either.

    The argument that Yale shouldn't invest in a company because its workers endure pain while in the workplace lacks any substance. Everyone, at some point in their lives, suffers from workplace pain--that's what happens when activites are repeated over a span of days, months, and years.

  • NoahK

    Dear Anonymous #1,

    You misunderstand what the UOC is calling for. They are not asking for disinvestment from HEI. Rather, they are asking for Yale to use the power it has as a major investor in HEI to push for better working conditions.

    You are right that many professions are physically demanding. Where you are dead wrong is a claim that this means we cannot do better. Should 60% of workers take painkillers just to make it through the day? The answer is clearly no. More importantly, can Yale's investment's office make that change? And the answer is yes.

    A call to disinvest from a company because pain exists would be foolish. A call to use your investment to improve working conditions is not.

  • Yale '09

    The point is not they they suffer injury, the point is that they are not given sufficient means to treat the injuries they sustain on the job and are forced to work despite them (NFL athletes have trainers, and are paid to sit on the sidelines when they're injured). These workers are seeking representation in the workplace that would enable them to purchase affordable health care and to have a voice on the job and a say in the decisions that effect their everyday lives. No one is asking for Yale to write a contract limiting workloads, or to divest in companies that work their workers harder than we think is reasonable; we're asking that workers themselves have a say, and that Yale help them to get it.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? You are comparing these workers that deal with labor rights violations and discrimination on a DAILY basis with NFL ATHLETES? im confused. are you actually comparing these low-wage workers to the overpaid, over-glorified professional athletes earning upwards of million dollars a year? Wow…

  • correct that headline

    this op-ed DOES NOT call for divestment.

    (!!!)

    please correct this title immediately, this completely misconstrues the uoc's demands.

  • Worker Bee

    Yah, I had a job once that I dinna like. Even tho they tole me excactly what the job entailed, and the "benefits," it turned out it was hard. ANd the benfits were not that good.

    Uh. So I quit. And got a better job.

    Yah, I could have stayed on and whined and cried "ooo hoo my wussy hurts" but I figuted it was better just ot get a better job.

  • @ Worker Bee

    You are an embarrasment to Yale.

    Your misplaced attempt at humor only shows how utterly unaware of how your own priviledge, and how utterly lacking you are in compassion.

  • Worker Bee

    ?

    Its a true story. Whats your problem?

  • '12

    "embarrasment" Now that's embarrassing.

  • Recent Alum

    Great, let's have Yale invest in more unionized companies that end up like Mory's or the automotive sector. That sure will contribute to raise our endowment in this economic downturn.

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