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Students protest HEI, go on hunger strike

Liz O'Donnell | Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A coalition of students protesting the allegedly poor treatment of HEI Hotel Workers gathered in front of the Main Building Monday to kick off a weeklong hunger strike.

Dressed in orange jumpsuits and donning signs, the students sat on a blanket on God Quad facing the Golden Dome in an attempt to ask University officials to change their investment policy with HEI Hotels.

Junior Liz Furman, one of the organizers of the protest, said she feels their mission is going unnoticed by the University and felt it was time to make a bigger plea.

“We went to a hunger strike because we’ve done a lot of things this semester and received no response [from the University],” she said. “It was time to take the campaign to a much more public level.”

According to a press release issued by the students participating in the strike, “Students argue that the way in which HEI treats its workers is in direct conflict with Catholic Social Teaching on workers’ rights, including the right to dignity, respect, fair wages and to organize.”

Furman said workers at HEI who have tried to unionize have faced threats, harassment and in some cases, been fired. The University has previously denied these claims.

“Some of the workers are overworked, underpaid, and injured. Health care is too expensive for employees to pay for,” she said.

Furman said the hunger strike was a way to show the students’ solidarity with the HEI Hotel workers during their fight for justice.

“It is important to me because Notre Dame says to the world that it’s an upstanding Catholic institution that upholds Catholic values and Catholic social teaching on campus, as well as an ethical investment policy,” she said. “I’m a Christian and I really believe in respecting all people and all people have the right to dignity and respect.

“I think HEI isn’t doing that and our University isn’t doing that.”

The strike began at 8 a.m. Monday morning and will continue through 5:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Furman said 13 students will fast during the entire period, while others will participate in their own way.

“We have 13 people hunger striking all five days throughout the week and have a bunch fasting for the day or a few days,” she said.

In a press release, Furman said the group’s main goal of the strike is to call attention to the issue, prompting action by the University.

“We want the University to recognize that it must take seriously the commitment we have as Catholics to act justly, respect all people, and honor workers’ rights not only on campus, but in our investments as well. If we are supporting a company accused of violating workers’ rights, we should be concerned,” she said.

University of Notre Dame Spokesman Dennis Brown said the University had no new information to add regarding its stance on HEI Hotels.

Furman said five campus clubs will be submitting letters expressing their views regarding HEI to University president Fr. John Jenkins throughout the week.