University News

Students urge U. to support boycott, workers’ rights

Renaissance Hotel employees allege low wages, efforts to prevent unionization

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 2014

Instead of lining up to watch the 250th anniversary fireworks and eat cake last Friday, Student Labor Alliance members passed out flyers urging the Brown community to support the Renaissance Hotel boycott.

Sophia Gluskin-Braun ’17 and other SLA members distributed approximately 200 flyers to students and alums entering the Main Green for the 250th anniversary festivities. SLA also recently created a petition, which has received 167 signatures, supporting the Renaissance boycott and urging the University to take a more active role in labor rights movements.

SLA members also initiated a social media campaign last week, which asked students to share the petition on Facebook and post #250 tweets calling for boycott support, said Mariela Martinez ’14, a SLA member.

SLA hopes its efforts will encourage the University “to make a public statement of support” and increase alum and student awareness of “a real labor fight happening 10 minutes away,” Martinez said.

Employees at the Renaissance, which is owned and managed by the Procaccianti Group, have been protesting for eight months and called for a boycott in December, Martinez said. SLA and the Brown International Socialist Organization have expressed their support at weekly Wednesday picket rallies downtown, Martinez said.

Workers at the Renaissance filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint in January, citing labor violations that include low wages and the use of intimidation and bribery to deter unionization efforts. The formal hearing is scheduled for March 31, The Herald previously reported.

In October, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor issued citations and fines to the Renaissance for dangerous chemical usage, forcing the hotel to pay $8,000 in fines, The Herald previously reported.

The Hilton Providence, also owned by the Procaccianti Group, faces similar accusations of employee mistreatment. Hilton employees have also held rallies calling for unionization, and 75 percent of the hotel’s workers signed a petition last month demanding changes in the workplace and a fair unionization process, The Herald previously reported.

SLA brought a resolution to the Brown University Community Council meeting Feb. 19, said Shelby Mack ’14. The resolution asked the University to publicly support the Renaissance boycott and take “all appropriate measures to avoid holding any events at the Renaissance during the current labor dispute.” This includes encouraging visitors to not stay at the hotel during the 250th anniversary celebration, A Day on College Hill, graduation and reunions and to not patronize the Renaissance in University websites, pamphlets and other publicity advertisements. The SLA’s resolution also called for the University to “add labor disputes to the standard cancellation clause in contracts for off-campus events and meetings,” the resolution states.

The SLA resolution was put at the end of the council’s agenda, but ultimately did not receive a vote, Martinez said. “It was unfair, in our opinion, that we were pushed to the end of the meeting.”

President Christina Paxson “sent a letter to the Procaccianti Group indicating her concern regarding the allegations of unfair labor practices at the Renaissance Hotel and the Hilton Providence” after the council’s meeting, wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald. Paxson “noted that the Brown community takes seriously the respectful and humane treatment of workers, and that we would be paying close attention to the National Labor Relations Board process that will begin this month.”

Martinez said she hopes the University will stay true to its values and follow its history of supporting labor rights.

In April 2010, the University moved a gala from the Westin Providence Hotel, owned by the Procaccianti Group, when the hotel faced allegations of unfair labor practices. By November 2010, the council adopted a resolution expressing support for the Westin boycott, The Herald previously reported. This motion subsequently helped Westin employees unionize in February 2011, Martinez said.

The University “carries a lot of weight,” Martinez said. “It’s students’ job to remind people of that history.”

Though the process of raising support “has been frustrating at times,” —  given the “urgent” nature of the employees’ problems  — Martinez said she hopes that the University will eventually “offer its support.”

  • Suzanne

    This is ridiculous. Does Brown University want EVERY business to leave Rhode Island??? Leave businesses alone and focus on issues that really need addressing.

    • concerned

      wow. anyway, brown isn’t backing this petition – its student who care about workers rights. what issues are more pressing than people’s rights to a safe and happy working environment? just because we are on a hill, doesn’t mean that we should close ourselves from the people that live right down it. is it so ridiculous that these students want to see people being treated fairly?

  • student

    Its hard to support anything without being presented any actual accounts of what happened. Being told vaguely there is mistreatment and being told exactly what is happening are very different things.

  • Mengles

    Further proof that college students are so insulated from real life economics it’s not even funny. Not surprising, as these are people living off of their parents.

    • dumber

      Or, you know, you could remember that it’s a tenet of mainstream economics that unions are a key, societally beneficial source of upward pressure on wages and working conditions.

      Nothing cuter than a righty who thinks he knows sh!t

      • Mengles

        Dummy, I’m talking about the surprise by college students that Brown doesn’t support unions outwardly. It’s a business as well – whether students want to admit it or not.

      • That’s cute

        Ask Detroit and Flint how societally beneficial the auto unions have been for them.

        Nothing cuter than a teenager who thinks he knows anything about the real world.

  • angry comment section regular

    The University “carries a lot of weight,” Martinez said. “It’s students’ job to remind people of that history.”

    i mean… does it?? is it??

    i’m definitely glad there are kids here trying to do good things for the world and all that, but this kind of thing always just feels so weird and vaguely condescending. like okay bsla keep looking out for unionized hotel workers/brown facilities workers/factory workers in your spare time when you’re not studying hegel or interviewing for consulting firms lol

    • dumb

      lol away but i know the sla kids and not a single one of them is interviewing for a consulting firm. but no, you’re a better person because u don’t do anything, well done you

      • angry comment section regular

        ugh i knew the consulting firm was a bad example and people would jump on it bc these are the type of people who probably look down on ‘sellout’ jobs. you know what i mean though. the educated elite are more than a little bit disconnected from factory workers and so on, and it seems patronizing to take up their cause.

        i do think it is overall a good thing to do for people and i didn’t say i was better. just that it’s a little awkward.