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Hotel employees protest discrimination, poor wages

Hilton Providence workers organize to join hotel workers’ union Unite Here Local 217

“We are tired of being used and abused,” said Krystle Martin, a waitress at the Hilton Providence and one of many of the hotel’s employees rallied Feb.18 to petition the hotel’s management, the Procaccianti Group, for better working conditions.

Police blocked the entrance to the hotel, thwarting the workers’ attempt to hand-deliver the document to management.

The workers demand changes in the work place and fair process to join a union, said Javier Araujo, a houseman in housekeeping at the Hilton. Seventy percent of the hotel’s employees signed the petition, Araujo said.

The Hilton Providence is one of three hotels managed by the Procaccianti Group, a real estate investment company headquartered in Rhode Island, to be accused of mistreating its workers. Employees’ complaints range from poor wages and benefits to discrimination and intimidation. Workers at the other two hotels, the Westin Hotel and the Renaissance Hotel, have protested management and made similar demands, The Herald previously reported.

The workers have made attempts to unionize with Unite Here Local 217, a hotel workers’ union, to help put their qualms with management to rest. But the workers claim management has threatened the job security of employees attempting to unionize.

“As soon as they found out I was one of the leaders, they began my termination process,” said Martin, who is also a member of the Hilton worker organizing committee.

Martin was hired as a waitress, but she said management demoted her upon discovering she was pregnant, forcing her to lift 40-pound buckets on a regular basis. After going into pre-term labor twice, her doctor issued her a note ordering her not to lift anything heavier than 15 pounds, she said. And five days after giving birth, Martin said she was forced to return to work with her newborn child.

“They discriminated against me, because I was pregnant,” Martin said. “They’re using me as an example to try to intimidate the workers, because I am not afraid to speak up.”

After the picket, management began deducting work hours from other employee activists, Martin said.

As a full-time employee, Araujo said he receives no benefits despite servicing 150 rooms per day by himself. “If there isn’t a union, I’m going to have to leave the job because it’s not worth the low compensation,” he said. Due to his physically demanding work, Araujo said he has experienced a series of back and foot injuries and has no health benefits to assist him with medical expenses.

Workers claim that management avoids providing workers benefits by strategically scheduling below the state’s requirements for hours worked. According to Rhode Island state law, an employee must work an average minimum of 30 hours per week to maintain full-time status and receive benefits.

Rhode Island’s 9.2 percent unemployment rate is currently the highest in the country,  which has created a labor environment more favorable for employers who have large pools from which to hire.

Eli Peterson ’13, another server in the Hilton’s restaurant, said students should be alarmed by the labor violations at the hotel. “I would encourage Brown students to pay attention to what is happening in the city around them, not just on the Hill,” he said.

The Brown Student Labor Association has urged the University to boycott Procaccanti Group-managed hotels in Providence, said You Bin Kang ’14, an SLA member. While the University declined to take such action towards the Renaissance Hotel after a meeting with the SLA, members plan to try again, Kang said.

The University declined to boycott the Procaccianti Group pending a legal decision on the dispute between the National Labor Relations Board and the Procaccianti Group, Kang said.

In conjunction with Local 217, hotel workers have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, Martin said. The Hilton Providence is the second hotel managed by the Procaccianti Group to have workers demand a fair process for unionization. Hilton representatives declined to comment on the dispute.

SLA members recently met with administrators and  “explored a range of options for the University to consider to communicate its values to current and potential vendors,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

Despite setbacks, Araujo and his colleagues remain optimistic.

“I expect the workers to hold out and continue to demand justice on the job,” Peterson said.


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