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.