President Ruth Simmons wrote a letter to HEI Hotels and Resorts' CEO last month to publicly express concern over reports of workers' rights violations, becoming the first university leader to do so, according to a March 15 press release from the Brown Student Labor Alliance.
HEI is accused of unfair labor practices, including allegedly interrogating employees about their union activity, threatening job loss for continued participation in union activity and confiscating union materials, the release said.
Writing on behalf of Brown's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, Simmons sent a stern warning to HEI CEO Gary Mendell.
"Notwithstanding the fact that the Committee does not deem it their responsibility to opine about the method to be used in determining whether your hotel employees are represented by a particular union," Simmons wrote, "they have advised me to state for the record that if there were to be any truth to the claims of the union and others that workers at some of your properties have been subjected to intimidation by managers due to their pro-union activities, this would be a matter of deep concern and contrary to our standards for investing."
HEI spokesman Jess Petitt said his company takes any accusations, especially with regard to its employees, very seriously.
"We stand by our record as an employer," Petitt said. The company has not been found guilty of any violations as of right now, he said. The charges made against HEI will go before the National Labor Relations Board in April.
"I think their interest is in hearing what the results of the NLRB hearing is," Petitt said of the University's motivations for sending the letter.
Petitt said, to his knowledge, Brown has not withdrawn its investments from the company or taken any other actions.
Elizabeth Caldwell '12, a member of SLA, said students from the group met with Simmons in early February about writing a letter to the company. At that time, Simmons responded that she would talk with the advisory committee and get back to the students in two weeks, Caldwell said.
But after two weeks, SLA members decided to give Simmons a reminder by delivering a letter reiterating their concerns to Simmons' office. That day, administrators told the students the letter had been sent, Caldwell said.
"When we actually saw the language of the letter, we were pretty pleased," Caldwell said. "There was definitely a direct response to the meeting."
Although a copy of the letter was provided to SLA, the letter was not made public until the Office of Public Affairs and University Relations released a copy of it to The Herald on Wednesday.
Caldwell said the group recently received word that HEI replied to Simmons' letter.
Petitt said the response contained a "detailed understanding of the ongoing issues" the company has had. He said he was not authorized to release the letter.
Caldwell said the company's response denied allegations, but offered to meet with Simmons or Brown students to discuss the issues.
Student groups at Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University and the University of Notre Dame have also requested that their administrations condemn HEI or even threaten divesting from the company, according to the respective schools' newspapers.