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HEI: Still an issue

Sarah Furman | Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Despite the fact that we are no longer sporting our incredibly sexy and stylish orange jumpsuits this week, the issue of Notre Dame’s investment in hotel company HEI is still a pressing one.

After extensive research and having conversations with current and former HEI employees, it is becoming increasingly clear HEI is a company whose actions are unethical. Their employees in multiple hotels have felt mistreated and ignored to the point where they have decided to call for a union but are facing many difficulties. We have not been “fed lies” by UNITE HERE!, the union working on the HEI campaign. Rather, we have read on our own and spoken with workers. Our conclusions are not from a place of ignorance.

Scott C. Malpass, Chief of Notre Dame’s Investments Office, claims he has spoken to employees of these hotels. In our meeting last spring, we asked him what that meant. His response: he had stayed in an HEI hotel and asked those who served him in the hotel what they thought of their job. What employee of a hotel, when approached by a well-dressed, wealthy-looking guest in their establishment would risk their job and bad-mouth their company? Of course Malpass has heard nothing but good things; other than those workers he has only spoken with CEOs and human resources, whose job is to make HEI look good.
We have actually spoken to employees and received honest responses. At different hotels, workers report increases in workloads, reduced hours, layoffs, elimination of job functions and even shortages in cleaning supplies. These are not lies spread by the union; they are factual stories told by the workers.

Also, HEI is clearly anti-union. In fact, they spent over $90,000 in 2008 alone on anti-union consultants, whose entire purpose is to help the company keep unions out of their hotels. The information for 2009 has yet to be made public, but we fear that this number has increased. In 85 percent of union drives, the employees face intimidation by the employer. It is not surprising that HEI is using the same tactics.

Malpass is correct in that HEI denies committing unfair labor practices and has not yet been found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of doing so. But it is disconcerting that Malpass refuses to acknowledge that the Office of the General Counsel of the NLRB has issued complaints against HEI, and that HEI will defend itself against these allegations at a hearing to commence on June 7. The workers have made claims that that the NLRB’s General Counsel has determined are serious and substantiated enough to merit a formal hearing – why is Malpass ignoring them? If we wait to take action until they are found “officially” guilty, we could be waiting through years of appeals while their workers suffer in the same unjust conditions.

Student groups at universities across the country are fighting for the same cause. In the middle of February, the president of Brown University, Ruth Simmons, wrote a letter to HEI showing her concern about their labor practices. This week, the Yale Daily News reported that, “Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility may reevaluate its stance on the University’s investment in HEI Hotels & Resorts in the wake of Brown University president Ruth Simmons’s letter” (http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/university-news/2010/03/23/univ-reconsider-controversial-investment/). These two universities, who are unaffiliated with any religion, have made public statements of concerns about the allegations against HEI. Why is Notre Dame, a Catholic university who claims to stand for justice and the tenants of Catholic Social Teaching, once again refusing to say anything or even discuss the issue?

As a Catholic university, it is our call to stand on the side of those who lack power, which, in this case, are the cooks, housekeepers, bellmen and other workers within the HEI hotels. After many allegations have been made against HEI both by individual employees and by the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, there is clearly reason for concern. We hope that Notre Dame continues to look into the practices of HEI and pressures the company to treat their workers with dignity by allowing them to form a union that will give them a voice in the workplace.


Sarah Furman is a junior . She can be reached at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.