Herring, Robinson-Sweet and Studebaker: Irresponsible investing

Last year, members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee met several times with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) both in public and private to ask for action regarding Yale’s considerable investment in HEI Hotels & Resorts. So far, nothing has been done.

HEI is a privately held owner and operator of 33 full-service hotels across the U.S. in which Yale has invested at least $120 million. When HEI takes over a hotel, it generates profit for itself, and therefore Yale, by dramatically reducing its operating expenses. This often includes extensive layoffs, leaving the remaining staff to shoulder all the work. Heavy workloads take a real toll on HEI workers’ bodies, who then often struggle to even afford health care. HEI has experimented with having housekeepers at some of its hotels clean up to 32 rooms a day. (To put this in perspective, union housekeepers typically clean 13 to 15 rooms.)

Workers at three HEI hotels have begun organizing with Unite Here, a union that represents many Yale employees. They have asked HEI to allow them to decide whether or not to form a union fairly, in an environment free of fear and intimidation. Thus far, HEI has refused. Pro-union workers have been interrogated, disciplined and even laid off. After months of being ignored by their employer, workers at two HEI hotels called for a consumer boycott.

As a principal investor in this company and as a university committed to ethical investing, it is Yale’s duty to let HEI know that if it wants to continue receiving investments from Yale, it must live up to basic standards of social responsibility.

The ACIR was formed in the 1970s for this express purpose — for members of the Yale community to raise ethical concerns regarding Yale’s investments. The UOC presented its concerns to the committee on numerous occasions hoping that the ACIR would respond to our concerns by sending a letter to HEI expressing displeasure with their anti-worker stance and asking the company to recognize its workers’ right to organize with card-check neutrality.

Instead, after a year of meetings, the ACIR sent members an e-mail during summer break saying they would be taking no action.

The ACIR claimed that they “were unable to substantiate any unfair or inappropriate labor practices on HEI’s part.” Yet, workers have personally testified on Yale’s campus that HEI management has, in fact, mistreated them. We are perplexed by the ACIR’s trust in the word of a few hotel managers over the many personal worker testimonies with which we supplied them. The ACIR, for instance, “saw no evidence” that Elizabeth Martinez, an HEI employee who spoke at Brown and Harvard, had been interrogated because of her campus visits. What else do you call it when managers spend an hour questioning an employee about a trip she made on her personal time to tell students about her attempts to organize?

The ACIR noted that, at the time of their letter, workers had filed no complaints against HEI with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, however, has begun investigating complaints against HEI. Moreover, the ACIR has tried to skirt the issue by saying that HEI workers have the option of forming a union through a National Labor Relations Act secret ballot election. But under the NLRA, employees are not protected from company-run anti-union campaigns. A fairer alternative, therefore, is the card-check neutrality agreement — a route HEI workers have asked for but which HEI refuses to recognize. The ACIR, however, chose not to push HEI to recognize card-check neutrality, saying that the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it mandatory for companies to card-check neutrality agreements, was still being considered by congress.

Yale cannot in good conscience ignore the anti-worker actions of this company. The evidence is there: A recently-filed LM-10 form shows that the company has spent over $98,000 on a union-busting firm. HEI workers cannot wait while congress and the ACIR sit by idly.

Because the committee has been unresponsive, we find ourselves with no option but to bring our call for action directly to our fellow students and Yale’s administration.

Mac Herring is a sophomore in Berkeley College; Anna Robinson-Sweet and Luke Studebaker are juniors in Davenport and Timothy Dwight Colleges, respectively. They are members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.

Comments

  • Hieronymus

    Seriously, is there ANY left-wing propa-meth y’all WON’T snort?

    Ignoring most of the outright unsubstantiated garbage in this rant, let us examine just one:

    “A fairer alternative [to an NLRB-sanctioned secret ballot], therefore, is the card-check neutrality agreement” (where a union can be declared once enough potential members sign pledge cards, i.e., the very opposite of “secret”).

    Please explain how an open ballot, which by its nature is subject to coercion and extortion (cf., e.g., GESO), is “fairer” than one of the bedrock principles of this nation, the secret ballot?

    For extra credit, I challenge you to give links to credible (for you lefties, that means “independent”) news sources documenting “the anti-worker actions of this [HEI]” that “Yale cannot in good conscience ignore.”

    Tangent stemming from another recent comment: is there some sort of Campus Crisis Central Command that allocates a single issue to spread across all Ivy campuses? This HEI red herring is popular at Penn, Brown, Cornell, etc. Do you guys just accept this received wisdom out of faith? Can you not develop your own pet causes with actual import?

    Ready for a real one? Here’s my pet cause: Slavery. I despise slavery. I find it an abomination worth ending. Slavery exists in the Sudan, in Ghana, in Saudi–some extend the “slavery” moniker to human trafficking in Eastern Europe (likely lots of campus consumers of the product, i.e., porn).

    You see: HEI employees are FREE. Free to quit, free to seek better employ if they are dissatisfied, free to better their skill sets and education. Y’all b*tch and cry about “workers’ rights,” y’all moan and mewl about Yale’s slave-owning namesakes, y’all occupy Dave Swensen’s office, crowing about the tzitzit on your tallit.

    Anyone here fight for women’s suffrage in Kuwait (where just THIS MONTH women won the right to travel w/o their husbands–huzzah!)? How about an end to honor killings (pick a country)? Or my fave–ending slavery in the Sudan.

    Anyone?

    So frickin’ myopically hypocritical that it upsets my stomach. Feel-good, do-nothing self-aggrandizers; don’t your palms get sore from patting each others backs?

  • Hieronymus

    Okay – the Pepto Bismol helped.

    Let us apply common sense to just one aspect of the HEI story, Ms. Elizabeth Martinez.

    Ms. Martinez, a WAITRESS for 11 years, somehow (magically?) had the money and fortitude to travel around the Ivy League last year talking about the horrors of working for her new HEI overlords.

    Where did Ms. Martinez get the money, one wonders… Might she have some other-than-altruistic motive? (Kinda like the thousands in salary that GESO organizers pulled down?)

    Ms. Martinez, as a WAITRESS (not that there’s anything wrong with that) could simply have quit, could have gone to some other restaurant, a friendlier or more upscale (i.e., higher paying) outfit, but chose not to. SOMETHING was keeping her there (gee, wouldn’t be the PAY and BENEFITS would it?).

    Is she still there? Let’s find out:
    http://heiworkersrising.info/index.php?q=node/27

    Ooooh… Looks like she was “interrogated” (and is, indeed, the subject of “interrogation” mentioned in this article).

    My favorite line from the “interrogation”?

    Ms. Martinez said “…I thought they were going to fire me at first.”

    Wait. WAIT a minute! You mean the Big Bad HEI ppl did NOT fire Ms. Martinez for agitating, for potentially sending the stock price down, for causing an unnecessary stink? But…but…but… these ppl are ALL POWERFUL! You mean they could not even manufacture some slip-up whereby they could fire this non-union, employee at will?

    (BTW: the “interrogation” was last fall. I am pretty sure there would be a blog update had she been fired since then, don’t you?)

    A close second fave is this quote: “They asked Ms. Martinez about everything she said in the article, including whether she and other employees really did work through their 30 minute lunch break.” Sounds like mgmt wanted to make sure that folks took their lunch break. You know, in a kind and caring way.

    BTW: *Why* did Ms. Martinez work through her lunch break, one wonders… was it because, um, waitresses make most of their pay in TIPS? That is, work more = earn more? That is, because she either CHOSE to work through lunch to maximize pay?

    C’mon investigative journalists: Where is Ms. Martinez TODAY? Hmmm?

    Oh, HERE she is, still employed:
    http://www.presstelegram.com/ci_13267667

    While it is sad that she, apparently, is “about to lose her home,” I am pretty impressed she could AFFORD a home on a waitress’s salary (that is, an oppressive, sub-human slave wage imposed by HEI overlords…).

    Here’s a balanced article showing how *other* employees feel:
    http://www.lbpost.com/specialreport.php?id=1&item=1874

    A good quote: “We have a good company here, and no reason for a union,” she says. Olmos and the other demonstrators described an easygoing relationship with their superiors that is disrupted by the presence of the union.

    “We have insurance, we have a 401k, we have full benefits,” Olmos said. “Why do we need unions? Why?”

  • Hieronymus

    Okay, last one for now. Food for thought:

    Wikipedia reports that after importing roughly 645,000 slaves from the 16th to the 19th centuries, “[t]he slave population in the United States had grown to four million by the 1860 Census.”

    Guess how many slaves there are in the world RIGHT. NOW. Go on. Write it down. I’ll wait.

    Did you write it down?

    Did you guess 5 million? If so, guess again.

    10 million? WRONG!

    How about:

    Twenty Seven Million.

    http://www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=375

  • Y10

    You guys are obnoxious and suffocatingly self-righteous. The ways in which Yale invests its money pays for your financial aid, among other things. If you don’t like it, why don’t you return it? We wouldn’t miss you.

  • UOC annoys everyone

    The UOC is a group of students who are 100% pro-union and extremely left-wing. This campaign to get Yale to divest from HEI is absolutely idiotic, as demonstrated by the fact that the ACIR decided not to take any action. Yale has an ethical responsibility to invest ethically, and being pro-union has nothing to do with ethics! Go stage a campus rally for unions if you must, or go enjoy your smug self-righteousness in the privacy of your own rooms, but please stop wasting valuable ink and time by writing these columns. They leave everyone dumber for having read them.

  • Goldie ’08

    I love how there is record unemployment in the US and we’re still talking about starting unions?

    Hieronymus is right (Psychotic, but right – Eric Stratton, Rush Chairman). If the employees dont like it – quit. There are thousands willing to take the job

  • Yale Alumna ’08

    @#6 Back when the U.S. had higher union density (i.e. a middle class), there was less unemployment. Because workers were able to bargain for a living wage and could afford to buy the products that they made.
    @ Hieronymus– you are assuming that there are comparable jobs that pay decent wages and have safe working conditions.

    Also, what’s the point of Yale having an ACIR if it’s never going to do anything? Institutions that practice socially responsible investing make returns that as just as good as those that don’t.

  • high, anonymous

    who paid hieronymous to attack every UOC action?

  • born into poverty

    clearly, many of you have never lived below the poverty line. you have not seen the value of a living wage.

    you seem to know about all of the other jobs out there that pay so much more; all of the other jobs available to immigrants.

    yes. my father is homeless because he WANTS to be homeless. he didnt work his entire life, he didnt switch from a bad job to a ‘good’ job, he didn’t learn english, he didn’t continue his education. he did nothing for himself. i wonder why he’s homeless

  • Hieronymus

    @#7 — “you are assuming that there are comparable jobs that pay decent wages and have safe working conditions.”

    Yes, I am: if there are *not* better jobs, then the jobs held are, by definition, relatively good (so, we must suffer malcontents); if there *are* comps or better (I mean, we are talking, at least in the case of E. Martinez, FOOD SERVER, a job that is typically plentiful, esp. in a tourist area such as Long Beach, Cali).

    As for your other assertion regarding unemployment rates: you mean, like the ’70s? The average annual inflation rate from 1900 to 1970 was approximately 2.5%. From 1970, however, the average rate hit about 6%, topping out at 13.3% by 1979. This period is also known for “stagflation”, a phenomenon in which inflation and unemployment steadily increased, therefore leading to double-digit interest rates that rose to unprecedented levels (above 12% per year). The prime rate hit 21.5 in December 1980, the highest in history. [Wikipedia]

    Or did you mean the ’50s (avg unemployment rate ~5%), the ’60s (~4.8%), or the Oughties(~5.5%)? (I could have mined better data points, e.g. the super-low unemployment of the late Nineties, but chose not to do so.) One rebuttal might be that, given the generally smaller selection of available products (think, for instance, the amazing and now mandatory safety innovations made in automobiles since the 1950s–or ’60s, or ’70s, or ’80s) versus today’s ubiquity of luxury (where your local Walgreen’s sells recently unimaginable technology–and premium chocolate!), there were fewer outlets for discretionary spending. BTW: Yalies paid more tuition (on average and in actuality), MUCH more, than they do today…

    @#8 I attack idiocy gratis; ‘twould seem the UOC, with its higher idiot quotient, simply presents a higher target density.

  • Old Blue ’73

    Did any of the three columnists work for Unite Here as summer interns or have they applied for next summer’s positions? Any investigative journalists at YDN want to ask that question of them? Are they paid shills?

    Under card check “neutrality” (I love these misnomers, like the Employee FREE CHOICE Act) union organizers can visit employees at their homes and “encourage” them to sign the cards. Employers are not permitted home visits, nor should they be. Once a majority of the cards are signed, presto the union rep chosen is the sole bargaining agent.

  • yale 08

    A mandated “living wage” only brings on greater unemployment for unskilled labor.

  • Hieronymus

    @#12 Quite true–and, ironically (if you are a Conservative), which group is hurt THE MOST by min. wage increases?

    That’s right: minority teens. Can you say 50%+ unemployment?

  • ROFLCOPTER

    This is rubbish of the type only produced by know-nothing art majors and their ilk.

  • BwAhHaHaHa!

    @#7

    “Back when the U.S. had higher union density (i.e. a middle class), there was less unemployment.”

    You mean like when everyone worked for The Big Three–Ford, GM, and Chrysler?????

    You mean the three biggest companies in the US now BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES and on the brink of DESTRUCTION due to UNIONS?!

    Oh that THAT is RICH! Tooooooo Funnny!

  • Agreed

    I’m in full support of UOC. In fact, I would like to testify to them about my summer working experience as a painter.

    My boss was really mean and often yelled at me when I did a lot of work. It was a poor working environment that I did not enjoy.

    Therefore, Yale should divest all funds in my boss’s painting company. Instead, Yale should only invest in companies where there are MULTIPLE (yes, that means at least TWO!) personal anecdote testimonies of how much they like working at their job.

  • robert99

    Interesting how union labor does what, 13 rooms per day and may be relativley highly paid. Non uniion does 30 rooms and probably gets what the market dictates. So all of you diehard union supporters should be willing to pay somewhere around 30/13 more per room for the labor content of your room bill. Any takers? i didn’t think so.