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Students protest labor practices

Joseph McMahon | Friday, October 10, 2008

Socially conscious students gathered on the steps of the Main Building Thursday afternoon to deliver a personal letter to University President Fr. John Jenkins demanding that the University divest its funds from HEI Hotels and Resorts – a company which the students said has unfair labor practices.

“We believe that our University is invested in a company that completely disregards the principles that our University seeks to cultivate,” said the letter, which was authored by the Coalition for Economic Justice. “HEI Hotels and Resorts has repeatedly undermined the dignity of their employees and denied their fundamental right to organize in an environment free from fear and intimidation.”

Although Jenkins was not in his office, the group handed the letter to his secretary.

In addition to the Coalition for Economic Justice, which is composed of three students, nine other campus groups signed the letter – Mecha ND, Notre Dame Peace Fellowship, Notre Dame Vietnamese Student Association, Filipino-American Student Organization, Campus Labor Action Project, Feminist Voice, Human Rights Notre Dame, ND-8 and the Progressive Student Alliance.

Coalition member Thanh Le said he first heard about the company’s unfair practices while working as an intern with Unite Here over the summer in Los Angeles.

“As a summer intern in Los Angeles, I was able to see the direct effects that this company has on its employees,” he said. “The Hilton in Long Beach will bring in union buses and pay these people millions of dollars to come in and tell the employees not to form a union and that unions are ultimately bad for the employees themselves.”

Coalition member Michael Angulo said these practices directly contracted the University’s mission statement.

“We can’t be invested in companies that don’t respect workers’ rights, and workers’ rights is something that has been affirmed by everyone from the United Nations to the Vatican,” Angulo said.

Coalition member Tatiana Estrada said HEI Hotels and Resorts is actually primarily funded by University endowments.

“We’re specifically concerned with this company because [Thanh Le and I] were summer interns with Unite Here, a labor union, and through that internship we found out about this company and that their primarily funded by university endowments,” she said.

Angulo said the company actually touts Notre Dame as one of its primary investors.

“This company has touted Notre Dame as one of the main universities that invests in it,” he said.

Estrada said she was surprised Notre Dame would invest in the company considering the University actually has a policy that it won’t invest in companies whose practices contradict the school’s mission statement. For example, Estrada said the University does not invest in pharmaceutical companies that market contraceptives.

“As a Catholic University, [Notre Dame] is basically founded on Catholic Social Teaching, and based on that Catholic Social Teaching, outlined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we have our own social responsibility investment policy,” she said.

President of Mecha ND, a group that focuses on Latino social issues, Jamie Luna said he chose to sign the letter because many of the exploited workers are Latinos.

“It is not necessarily targeted towards [Latinos] but they are suffering as the consequence of the acts of several corporations, so we thought it was important for us to be with this group,” he said.

Senior Clarissa Negrete, who attended the ceremony, said she was angry Notre Dame doesn’t publicize the companies it invests in. The only reason the group found out about HEI Hotels was because the company touted Notre Dame as one of its chief investors.

“As a senior here at Notre Dame, it’s kind of amazing how some of us still don’t know which companies the endowment consists of and that Notre Dame doesn’t release that,” she said. “I think we have a right to know, if we’re paying so much money to go here every year, where some of that money is going.”

Angulo said he hoped the University responded by October 30, or else they would return to the president’s office to seek a response.

“The secretaries are very nice and we’re sure they’ll forward the message on. What we’re looking for is if the University actually takes a clear stance,” he said. “We will be asking that the Administration respond to our letter, clarifying their stance on the issue, by the Thursday following our Fall Break – Oct. 30.”