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Students ask to cut ties from HEI

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A coalition of students from the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) met with Chief Investment Officer Scott Malpass and a representative from HEI Hotels and Resorts Tuesday to ask the University to cut ties with the company.

Malpass told The Observer the University will not divest in HEI.

“I have checked with the company’s public records and their grievances and their record is stellar,” Malpass said. “Absolutely stellar.”

Coalition member Michael Angulo said PSA has been in dialogue with several employees at HEI hotels who claim the management has used intimidation tactics to keep them from unionizing.

A Feb. 19 Observer article reported the University is one of several colleges nationwide investing in HEI – a company that owns and operates hotels – and the company receives almost $1.2 billion from university endowments, including the endowments of Notre Dame, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and the University of Chicago.

PSA launched the campaign demanding the University divest in HEI in the fall because they claim Notre Dame is “invested in a company who continuously disregards the principles that our University seeks to cultivate,” the group said in a letter to University President Fr. John Jenkins.

“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,” the letter said.

Malpass said HEI supports unions, but not the method of unionizing for which PSA is advocating.

“They’re pushing for a card check neutrality method when the law requires a secret ballot,” he said. “So the company is not anti-union at all. They are happy to have unions; it’s the mechanism used to get unions that is contested.”

Malpass said card check neutrality is a method in which employees are required to obtain 50 percent plus one of employee’s signatures on a card to be recognized as a union by the company. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requires that a secret ballot be administered to all employees to vote on whether they will unionize.

Malpass said the secret ballot method is more democratic because the card check method does not require all employees to be asked, so some employees can be disenfranchised from the process.

“The company is very ethical. It has tremendous values,” he said. “This is very unfair and misguided and I’m disappointed.”

Coalition member Holly Bird, who participated in the meeting with Malpass and the HEI representative, said the group presented Malpass with testimonies from several workers who claim they were fired after attempting to unionize with the card check method.

Bird said Malpass told the students he researched the company thoroughly and did not find any complaints or violations.

“He said if the workers have an example of a violation, then they need to file an official complaint,” she said. “But the problem with that is the legal system takes forever for people’s complaints to go through.”

When the students asked the HEI representative about the lack of the card check neutrality method of unionizing in the company, Bird said the representative said the company is supportive of unions, but not the card check method of unionizing.

“[The representative] said they all agree at HEI that people should have the right to unionize, but the company is against card check neutrality because it is not democratic,” she said.

Bird said the representative said the method of secret ballots administered by the NLRB is standard because it includes all workers and protects their anonymity.

After the official meeting, a group of students returned without appointment to Malpass’ office and asked him to meet with a former HEI employee who was on campus to work with the PSA coalition.

Herman Romero, formerly a cook at an HEI hotel, said, in a statement translated from Spanish by Angulo, that the company fired him, along with two other employees after they attempted to unionize workers with the card check method.

Coalition member Roman Sanchez, who accompanied Romero to Malpass’ office, said Malpass told Romero there was nothing that could be done without an official complaint.

“Malpass’ stance was that if this worker had a complaint, it should go through the proper channels,” Sanchez said.

Although Malpass said the University will continue to invest in HEI, Bird said PSA will continue to support HEI workers.

“We are trying to figure out how we want to approach it in the fall,” she said. “We want to have really hard concrete evidence to really refute their claims.”