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HEI hotel workers ask for support

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, February 19, 2009

Three hotel workers and a union organizer urged Notre Dame students to support the rights of HEI Hotels and Resorts workers to unionize at an event hosted by the Coalition for Economic Justice in the Dooley Room of LaFortune Wednesday.

Maria Vivanco, 24, an organizer with Unite Here Local 2, a San Francisco chapter of the union, urged students to campaign for better working conditions for hotel employees.

“You guys are among the privileged that have that [college] education, so we really want you to use your degree and your education as a tool to make change,” she said.

The Coalition, a division of the Progressive Student Alliance, first hosted workers from HEI’s Le Meridien Hotel in San Francisco last November.

One of the workers who spoke, Michael Archeta, was fired from his position as a cook after a Nov. 11 Observer article about the event was discovered by the hotel management, Vivanco said.

The workers came to Notre Dame to speak Wednesday and last November because the University is one of several colleges that invests in HEI. The company receives nearly $1.2 billion from endowments at schools including Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

In a letter to be delivered to University President Fr. John Jenkins Thursday, the members of the Coalition mention Archeta and urge Jenkins to cease Notre Dame’s business relations with HEI until the company “respects the dignity of [its] workers.”

Members of the Coalition for Economic Justice began campaigning last fall for the University to divest from HEI by presenting a letter to Jenkins.

The Observer reported in November that Jenkins praised the University’s social investment policy in a response letter to the Coalition, and encouraged the group to meet with Scott Malpass, Notre Dame’s Chief Investment Officer.

In the letter, the Coalition writes that Malpass “has been extremely receptive, and we hope to continue dialogue with him.”

The letter again urges divestment:

“It is important that our University stands in solidarity with HEI’s workers, especially in these difficult economic times,” the letter says. “We must encourage those with whom we do business to engage in practices that uphold the dignity of workers.”

Vivanco said Unite Here is working to get Le Grand Meridien Hotel in San Francisco to agree to a card check agreement, or “basically an opportunity for the workers to have union representation.”

The difficult economy makes the task even harder, Vivanco said, and Unite Here knows that there are bound to be layoffs, and they cannot “pull off miracles.”

“We are here to organize workers and provide the tools for you to fight for your future,” she said.

Greg August, 47, a banquet services worker with Le Meridien in San Francisco, said he wants a union at the hotel primarily for job security and health care.

“That is why we are fighting for union rights,” he said. “Because we are going to be covered, under our collective bargaining rights, with health care benefits.”

Ana Flores, 50, is a housekeeper at the same hotel. She said she has worked as a housekeeper for 20 years, and said she has to work hard to feed her family.

“The thing is, without a union, we have nothing,” she said. “If they sell the hotel tomorrow, I will be on the street. I will be homeless. I have no hope, except the union and you guys that are trying to help us.”