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.

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