DoubleTree, Double Standards

What is it like to work for Harvard? Thanks to successful worker-initiated and student-supported campaigns, workers here on campus have generally secured strong unions, living wages, and impressive contracts. Yet at the Harvard-owned and Hilton-managed DoubleTree Hotel just across the river in Allston, workers have reported chronic pain and debilitating injuries from overwork, poverty-level wages, and inadequate health care for themselves and their families.
For over a year, workers at the hotel have sought a fair process to decide whether or not to unionize, so that they can have an avenue through which to promote their fundamental rights at work. And for over a year, management has refused to grant this request. So today, workers at the DoubleTree are officially launching a boycott of the hotel until they receive respect at work.
The Crimson has editorialized in favor of the DoubleTree workers’ right to organize and called upon Harvard to support a fair process, and both the Undergraduate Council and the Graduate Student Council have passed legislation in support of a boycott in a situation where a majority of workers call for one. We ask all members of the Harvard community to answer the DoubleTree workers’ call and not patronize the hotel until workers are granted a fair process.
In recent years, workers have spoken out about deteriorating working conditions at the hotel, which Harvard bought in 2005. For instance, housekeepers at the DoubleTree must clean almost twice as many rooms as housekeepers in Boston and Cambridge who work under union contracts. Recent studies have shown that rushing housekeeping work greatly increases the likelihood of injuries—such as sprains, strains, and spinal disc injuries—among these workers.
Often, employees who return to work after they are injured are expected to resume the same dangerous tasks. When one DoubleTree worker interviewed by Gabriel H. Bayard ’15 recently returned to work after his third debilitating injury, the hotel required that he continue unloading supply deliveries on his own, causing him great physical pain. Another worker, Delmy Lemus explained that she was required to complete a full workload of housekeeping up until three days before she gave birth to her daughter. As a result of her strenuous work, she injured her back and subsequently was unable to comfortably care for her newborn child; she subsequently had to take a wage-reducing disability leave. Furthermore, wages at the hotel are so low that many workers are unable to purchase health insurance coverage for their family members. One worker, Sandra Hernandez, said: “If my husband gets sick, I don’t know what I would do.” Low wages also force many employees to rely on SNAP payments (food stamps) in order to make ends meet.
Last March, a majority of workers at the DoubleTree signed a petition asking the management for a fair process to decide on unionization. Soon after, the Student Labor Action Movement presented a petition with over 600 signatures in support of the DoubleTree workers to University President Drew G. Faust. This past November, 16 student groups signed a letter asking Harvard to support a fair process, and many students, workers, and community members rallied in support of the DoubleTree employees. Yet still, Harvard has refused to support workers at the hotel. The call for boycott is a courageous and necessary next step in the workers’ fight for a fair process and for justice and respect at work.
In the past, Harvard has attempted to deny responsibility for working conditions at the DoubleTree by saying that the hotel is operated by Hilton, not Harvard. However, given that Harvard wholly owns the hotel and public files indicate that the hotel has made over $20 million in income in the past, it is clear that the university has a major stake in the hotel. The time has come for our university, a leader in higher education in the Boston area and around the world, to stand for justice at the DoubleTree.
Students have a huge role to play in supporting the DoubleTree workers. A large portion of DoubleTree business consists of Harvard-affiliated events and visitors to Harvard’s campus. We ask that all students, faculty, staff, and community members honor the boycott of the hotel and urge their friends and relatives to do the same. We also ask everyone who supports the workers to sign the petition asking Harvard to publicly support the DoubleTree employees in their fight for justice. And today, undergraduate and graduate students will rally with DoubleTree workers, local politicians, and other community members in front of the hotel to officially launch the boycott.
A group will meet at the John Harvard Statue in Harvard Yard at 4:00 p.m. to walk over to the hotel. We invite all members of the Harvard community to join and show support for workers’ rights at Harvard and beyond.

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