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Students urge U. to support boycott, workers’ rights

Renaissance Hotel employees allege low wages, efforts to prevent unionization

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.”



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