Last Tuesday at the Brown University Community Council meeting, the Student Labor Alliance brought forth a resolution advocating a boycott of the Hilton Providence Hotel. Based on testimony that the hotel puts employees in unfair working conditions, we support the boycott. Hilton employees report being asked to clean more than the unionized standard of hotel rooms per day and endure a work-related injury rate 69 percent higher than the national average.
Hilton employees have been protesting discrimination and poor wages since February 2014, when they held a rally to put pressure on the Procaccianti Group, which manages the hotel. Workers complained that the management practiced discrimination and required them to work excessive hours in order to earn benefits. Seventy-five percent of hotel workers signed a petition at the time demanding better working conditions and a fair unionization process. In 2014, the SLA encouraged the University to boycott the hotel, but the University declined pending a legal decision on the dispute between the National Labor Relations Board and the Procaccianti Group.
BUCC members who are hesitant to support the boycott have cited the lack of ongoing legal action for labor law violations as a key reason not to act. While some may argue that more research needs to be done before the University can take action, due to the Procaccianti Group’s long history with unacceptable working standards, we urge council members to listen to employees’ complaints of unfair treatment now. Rather than waiting for a legal process to take place and standing passively by while external forces decide what sort of action should be taken, Brown should use its economic and social power in Providence to shape the conversation as it is happening.
The University can build on precedent in taking action. In 2014, President Christina Paxson P’19 addressed worries about unfair working conditions at the hotel by sending a letter to the Procaccianti Group that indicated concerns about alleged unfair practices. In the past, such efforts have been effective. In 2010, Brown moved a gala from the Westin Providence Hotel, which is managed by the same group, after similar allegations of unfair labor practices. BUCC then voted to express support for a boycott of the Westin, which helped Westin employees unionize. The University’s actions have power, and that power should be put to use to support members of the greater Providence community.
Since boycotting is not a legal process, it would simply involve removing the Hilton from Brown’s list of suggested hotels and notifying the Brown community of the labor dispute. Brown does not need to assess the legality of the Procaccianti Group’s actions in order to take a stand.
As an audience member at the BUCC meeting pointed out, Brown has been involved with past boycotts that acknowledged the existence of a dispute without necessarily favoring either side. Yet we believe that when 75 percent of employees sign a petition demanding changes in working conditions, it is hard to remain neutral. Brown has little to lose from boycotting the Hilton, and it could significantly help employees demand fairer working conditions. The University should use its power for good.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to email@example.com.