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Community reacts to hunger strike

Tony Rivera | Tuesday, April 27, 2010

With the conclusion of a week-long, student-led hunger strike against the University’s involvement with HEI Hotels, the administration affirmed that, after carefully looking into the alleged poor treatment of the company’s workers, it found no support for the claims and its position had not changed.

The student protestors likewise said their position had not changed.

The hunger strike began last Monday when students gathered in front of the Main Building wearing orange jumpsuits and holding up signs. With a total involvement of about 30 students staying at least part of the time, the strike concluded Friday afternoon with Mass in front of the main steps.

Thirteen of the 30 students engaged in the hunger strike the whole week.

“I think that after this week … we are more committed than ever,” junior Liz Furman said. “Our work is complete when our University upholds the morals and values that it says it upholds on its mission statement.”

As the latest chapter in a debate that has stretched on for years, the hunger strike aimed at Notre Dame’s continued investment in HEI, a firm that develops many of the country’s most well-known hotels.

Students called for the University to withdraw its investment with HEI due to allegations that the company practiced unethical tactics in preventing workers from unionizing.
The University said this week, however, that it has considered these allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated.

“In accord with Notre Dame’s longstanding social investment policy, the University has investigated and closely monitored recent and ongoing claims made about HEI’s labor practices,” University spokesman Dennis Brown said in a written statement.
Brown said Notre Dame remains convinced that HEI engages in fair labor practices and is an “outstanding company.”

Sophomore Roman Sanchez said the students did not receive a response from the University since their hunger strike.

“We sent letters everyday to the President’s Office,” he said. “But [we’ve heard] nothing from an official University spokesman.”

He did say, however, that they have been in communication with Chief Investment Officer Scott Malpass, who offered to provide more information about HEI in the future.
Malpass was not available for comment.

Following the conclusion of the hunger strike, Sanchez said he is excited for the future.

“I’m excited to see where we’ll go. I really believe in what we’re doing, and I believe that what we’re doing is all in the message of Christ,” he said.

Sanchez said his complaints were not part of any personal battle with the University, so much as making sure it was being accountable to Christian message.

Furman said she was encouraged by the support of the community and strangers alike throughout the week.

“We received a letter from a clergy group called CLUE (Clergy and Laity Uniting for Economic Justice),” she said. “It was a third party support for us, our hunger strike and the HEI workers.”

One of the biggest successes of the strike was the mere fact that they managed to raise awareness, Furman said.

“Just having come out of the hunger strike, and now that there is more awareness of the issue, our campaign is not over,” she said. “[Our] campaign will not end just because the school year ends.”

Although no immediate next step has been decided, Sanchez said the students will likely continue their efforts and pick up where they leave off up in the fall.