University News

BUCC to examine data before Hilton boycott decision

Hotel ownership group denies Local 217 union’s allegations of high worker injury rates at Hilton

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, October 16, 2015

The Brown University Community Council will discuss the possibility of an official boycott of the Hilton Providence at its next meeting Oct. 27, spurred by a labor dispute between workers and The Procaccianti Group — an investment firm the University has boycotted at two locations in the past. The Undergraduate Council of Students passed a resolution ­encouraging the University to boycott the Hilton Wednesday.

The Brown Student Labor Alliance briefly introduced the Hilton case to the BUCC Sept. 27 and called for the University to stop its institutional support of the Hilton by notifying faculty members, departments and the larger Providence community of the labor dispute. The Hilton would be removed from online listings, but the University would not ban Brown-affiliated individuals from booking at the Hilton.

The labor dispute is a result of Hilton workers’ protests against unreasonable workloads — specifically the number of rooms expected to be cleaned per day, the high percentage of work-related injuries as compared to unionized hotels and mistreatment by management. Work-related injuries and illnesses at the Hilton Providence are 69 percent higher than the national average in 2013, wrote UNITE HERE Local 217, a union for hotel and food service workers in Rhode Island and Connecticut, in a pamphlet titled “Providence’s Pain Problem.” SLA cited this information, which indicated that 9.1 percent of Hilton workers experienced work-related injuries over the past year, in a presentation delivered to the BUCC Sept. 27 and UCS Wednesday.

Local 217 and the SLA hold The Procaccianti Group — which owns the Hilton, Renaissance and Wyndham hotels in Providence — accountable for the worker’s treatment at the Hilton. Ralph Izzi, Jr., vice president of corporate marketing and public affairs at TPG, wrote in an email to The Herald, “Union organizers, not hotel employees, and the union’s powerful publicity machine and sympathizers have blanketed the media and Internet with sensational stories of worker abuse. … This could not be further from the truth.”

The National Labor Relations Board clearly outlines the process to unionize, which entails a petition to the NLRB with at least 30 percent support from employees, Izzi said. Once this passes, an investigation of the hotel would be launched to ensure that the NLRB has jurisdiction. Then, the hotel would post a Notice of Petition for Election, which informs employees on an impending vote to decide for or against unionization. The vote would be secret ballot on a mutually agreed-upon date by the NLRB and the hotel in question. The process can be bypassed if the employer voluntarily acknowledges a union, but TPG has no intention to do so.

“Union organizers have demanded the hotel bypass this democratic process. … The hotels will not, under any circumstance, and notwithstanding any amount of coercive political, media or community pressure, voluntarily forfeit legal rights to which they and their employees are entitled,” Izzi said. “The hotels are not opposed to elections by their employees to be represented by a union or not.”

On Wednesday, the SLA presented its case to UCS, and the resolution was moved to a vote, which passed almost unanimously. Before the vote, one of three dissenters asked if TPG was breaking any laws in regards to the treatment of employees. “They’re not violating labor laws, but working conditions are nonetheless severe, and not everything that is legal is morally responsible,” said SLA member Cameron Johnson ’17 at Wednesday’s UCS meeting. SLA members declined to speak to The Herald for the story.

UCS President Sazzy Gourley ’16 supported the resolution, saying, “Brown has a moral obligation to recognize both its position of power and its position of influence in the Providence community. … The University can send a powerful message that supports the Hilton workers’ rights.”

Brendan McNally, associate director of the business, entrepreneurship and organizations program, has some reservations about boycotting the Hilton before facts are verified. “As a leader in the community, I believe Brown’s public stance on an issue such as a labor dispute carries great importance and weight with many people,” he said. “In this case, I think the BUCC needs to be certain of the facts before publicly endorsing Local 217’s call for a boycott.”

McNally said he has great respect for the SLA and admires the group’s efforts to support fair working conditions at Brown and surrounding areas. “SLA students often have a firm grasp of issues and do a great job raising our collective level of awareness,” he said, adding that last year, the SLA brought a similar issue to the BUCC. The Renaissance hotel, also owned by TPG, underwent a labor dispute that “rose to the level of an active NLRB case,” McNally said. In this situation, the BUCC chose to boycott the Renaissance. 

Local 217’s data compares national rates on worker-related injuries to the rates of individual hotels, McNally said. ‘The national averages are publicly accessible, however I don’t know where the data for the TPG hotels came from. I think the BUCC should have some way of verifying whether those injury and illness rates are valid,” he added.

Though the BUCC has no defined threshold for substantial evidence to make a decision, “It’s already clear that there is a labor dispute, so … I think that’s the only bar of evidence that should be necessary,” Gourley said.

The SLA also cited RIfuture.org, a political blog that wrote and published videos about the Hilton’s mistreatment of workers and attempts to silence supporters of unionization by firing and disciplining employees. The Procaccianti Group denies these allegations.

“I hope UCS has a healthy discussion and explores the source of TPG data on injuries and illnesses before making any recommendations on a boycott,” McNally said.

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