Let’s talk about justice
Sarah Furman and Elizabeth Furman | Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Pope John Paul II in “On Human Work” writes “[Unions] are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people.” Despite this basic right to organize, Notre Dame has millions of dollars invested in HEI Hotels and Resorts, the seventh largest hotel management company in the US. HEI buys hotel properties and runs them under franchise brand names, such as Hilton and Sheraton, with the intention of selling them again at a profit within eight to 12 years. To cut costs, HEI uses tactics such as increasing workloads, decreasing hours and layoffs. Workers with already physically demanding jobs are being asked to work even harder. A recent study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2009 shows that hotel workers had an injury rate 25 percent higher than all service workers, housekeepers having the highest rate of injury. Despite complaints, employees still feel that their voices are not being heard.
This has prompted HEI workers across the country to organize. However, employees have encountered many challenges in this fight. The National Labor Relations Board has issued the following complaints among others against HEI alleging that the company broke labor laws by, “Inform[ing] its employees that it would be futile for them to select a union as their bargaining representative by implying they would not get a pay raise,” and “Threaten[ing] employees with losing their employment, if they continued to participate in union activity.”
As a Catholic community, we are called to stand for stand for justice. How can we continue to invest millions of dollars in a company whose workers are suffering without being heard? Can we allow workers such as Herman Romero and Santana Alvarez, employees of HEI-owned hotel Sheraton Crystal City in Arlington, Va., to be laid-off after a union drive began only to be rehired months later in positions with lower wages?
After a meeting with Notre Dame’s investment office last spring alerting them to these issues, nothing has changed. We, as a Catholic community standing in love and solidarity with HEI workers, are calling Notre Dame to divest from HEI. Take a stand with us.