Univ. weighs next step on controversial investment

Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility has not found proof that HEI Hotels & Resorts mistreated employees. But if it does, the committee may urge Yale to stop investing in HEI, not just ask HEI to remedy its practices, committee chair Jonathan Macey said Monday.

At a meeting in Linsly-Chittenden Hall Monday, Macey, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel, Yale union representatives, and student activists gathered to hear informal testimony of worker intimidation from two employees at hotels run by HEI. The seventh-largest hotel management company in the country, HEI counts Yale, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities among its investors. Macey said the advisory committee had not yet found evidence that the workers’ allegations were true, adding that if they have merit, the committee will consider asking Yale administrators to divest, rather than try to engage the company in talks as Brown and Penn have done.

“The conversation until today has been about engagement and writing a letter,” Macey said of his dealings with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, the student activism group urging Yale to confront HEI. “Now we’re talking about divestment.”

Though Macey and Peel said the workers expressed their plea for divestment forcefully, Macey said his discussions so far with HEI senior vice president of human resources Nigel Hurst and examination of a recent complaint against HEI filed with the National Labor Relations Board did not prove the workers’ claims. Continued investigation may yield more information before the advisory committee holds its last meetings this year, he added, and the NLRB will review the complaint at a hearing in June.

The letter Brown president Ruth Simmons sent to HEI CEO Gary Mendell in March, which cautioned the company that it would frown upon worker intimidation if the claims proved true, suggested an “engagement” strategy rather than a move to divest, Macey said. And while Macey’s committee would also be concerned if the allegations Simmons mentioned are true, Macey said, sending a letter would not alter the outcome of the investigation.

“That’s so obvious, I don’t see why one would send a letter about it,” Macey said, adding that in his view, the labor dispute does not seem different from labor disputes at many other companies. “It would be an easy thing to write letters to every company in Yale’s portfolio, but it doesn’t strike me, beyond sound-byte value, as meaningful.”

Workers and union leaders say that HEI employees have been harassed, intimidated, and even fired for trying to unionize workers at HEI hotels. Meanwhile, the two workers told those assembled at the Monday meeting that hotel management has cut back on staff to save money, forcing the remaining workers to take on grueling extra work.

“Not only do we feel threatened and intimidated, but the hotel situation is terrible because there’s a reduction in workers,” Peter Ho, a lobby porter at the San Francisco Le Meridien hotel, said through a translator. “The workload has doubled. I basically feel like I’m working like a slave right now.”

Ho and Jose Landino, a worker at the Long Beach Hilton hotel, said they had urged people to boycott the hotels at which they work to protest managers’ treatment of workers, but had been unable to unionize. They also urged Yale to divest from HEI. (Yale previously invested at least $121 million in HEI, according to HEI Securities and Exchange Commission tax forms provided to the News by the UOC in 2008.)

The meeting came on the heels of an upswing in anti-HEI activity at campuses across the country, coordinated largely by UNITE HERE, a network of unions that includes Yale’s Locals 34 and 35.

Following Brown’s lead, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Craig Carnaroli sent a private letter to HEI on April 26. Penn representative Tony Sorrentino declined to comment on the exact contents of the letter, but confirmed that Penn is an investor in HEI and will pay close attention to the outcome of a hearing in June.

Students at the University of Notre Dame also spoke out against HEI’s treatment of workers, holding a five-day hungers strike in protest from April 19 through April 23. A handful of Yale students from Jews for Justice and Salt of the Earth: Christians for Social Justice at Yale held a fast in solidarity with Notre Dame strikers last Friday.

Ben Crosby ’13, a member of Salt of the Earth and the UOC said he thinks both conversation with administrators and fasting are important ways to call the University’s attention to the students’ cause. Crosby added that he hopes the allegations will be more conclusively proven at the upcoming hearing.

Simmons’ letter marked the first time a university official had publicly spoken out against the allegations.

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