Social Responsibility Committee
6 November 2012
Present: Terry Boychuk (chair), Daylanne English, Anna Faber, Laurie Hamre, Ruth Janisch-Lake, Brian Lindeman, Chris MacDonald-Dennis, Paul Schadewald, and Vincent Siegerink. Absent: David Wheaton
The meeting was called to order at 12:30pm. The agenda consisted of the committee discussing and making a final decision on MPIRG’s proposal for an ethical travel policy. This discussion on this issue began in November of 2011.
The most recent rendition of the students’ description of the issue and action proposal follows at the end of these minutes.
The Committee discussed the lack of change from the earliest proposal until the final proposal. The Committee believes the basis of the proposal stands on information that is one sided, unsubstantiated, unclear and therefore cannot send forward a recommendation of a travel boycott to the President. It was also noted that MCSG is including a recommendation on the student travel form that parties check on union hotels when using accommodations away from campus, but there will not be a no tolerance or requirement to boycott HEI hotels. (both were requested by MPIRG)
The Committee acknowledges the work of the MPIRG leaders carried over a full year of study and research. There was concern from the committee that the inability to support students’ efforts and activist beliefs might at times discourage groups from bringing appropriate business to the SRC.
Terry will send the committee’s decision to the students followed by a note to President Rosenberg. There is some concern the student leaders may look for other avenues to enact a travel policy.
The meeting was adjourned at 1:30pm.
November 5, 2012 – revised Description of the Issue:
This proposal is an amended continuation of the HEI proposal brought before the SRC originally on November 30, 2011. As we explained in that proposal, and will outline again here, the hotel housekeeping industry is one of the most exploitative industries in the United States. This is because workers in hotel chains such as HEI Hotels and Resorts, Inc. and Hyatt Hotels and Resorts are underpaid, overworked, and face intense illegal anti-union campaigns and intimidation. HEI and Hyatt are notorious in the industry for leading the race to the bottom and setting an especially low bar for the treatment of their workers. This is why many of their hotels are placed on the union UNITE HERE’s boycott list. Currently there is a national movement bringing together students and workers to fight back against these hotels’ illegal and unethically practices. Much of this movement is focused on moving university and college endowment money away from HEI hotels. We want Macalester to join this movement for justice. However, because Macalester is not currently invested in HEI and has said privately that it has no plans to invest in them in the future, we would like to use our consumer power to pressure these hotels to change their practices. As will be outlined below, we propose a college wide travel policy which boycotts boycotted hotels and encourages the patronage of unionized hotels when given the choice.
Relationship to Macalester:
Macalester prides itself on being a socially responsible and ethical institution. When issues concerning college polices have arisen in the past, the administration has been cooperative in altering those policies. Macalester’s recent Bottled Water Ban is a perfect example of the college’s ability to strengthen its commitment to institutionalizing socially responsible practices on a larger scale. And just as the college promotes academic excellence and ethical behavior in its students, the students demand administrative excellence and ethical behavior. Students and administrators holding each other accountable as ethical members of the larger community has given Macalester a positive reputation as a college whose student body and administration both value justice. Boycotted hotel properties are not socially responsible or ethical; therefore their practices contradict Macalester’s commitment to responsible and ethical actions and polices.
When student groups, teams, or professors travel, Macalester pays for their hotel stays, possibly at HEI owned hotels or other boycotted properties such as Hyatt properties. When students pay tuition and alumni donate, they are doing so in the hopes that the money will be spent to improve Macalester College and keep it moving forward, not spent reinforcing unethical business practices in boycotted hotels. When Macalester takes a stand on this issue it will join other prestigious universities who are saying no more to unethical and illegal treatment of workers in boycotted hotels. Last year, Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University all publicly stated that they have no future plans to reinvest in HEI. Over the past few months, Swarthmore College, Vanderbilt University, and Cornell University also released similar statements. And most recently Princeton University spoke out against HEI and stated they also will not reinvest.1 Macalester markets itself as a mini-Ivy, so it is time we stood with our peers and took a stand against these boycotted hotels that engage in unethical business practices.
Tuition dollars and student organization funds should not be used to patronize sweatshop hotels. A campus-wide avoidance of boycotted properties would be the most powerful statement Macalester could make against both HEI and Hyatt’s unethical and illegal business practices. The Action Section below will outline a way Macalester can successfully avoid supporting hotels that engage in unjust practices.
Statement of Relevant Facts:
UNITE HERE, the hotel union in the United States, boycotts hotel properties because they violate workers’ basic human rights. Hotel housekeeping is a physically strenuous job under any circumstances, but these boycotted properties have singled themselves out with sweatshop- like working conditions. Hotel housekeepers around the country face an injury rate of 10.4%, almost double the injury rate for other workers (5.6%).2 Extreme workloads due to insufficient staffing directly cause greater physical strain on the housekeepers as they try to compensate for the larger workload. This results in injuries such as pulled tendons, pinched nerves, carpal tunnel, and back pain.
The two umbrella companies that UNITE HERE focuses its boycotts on are HEI and Hyatt. There are also two specific hotels, the Congress Hotel in Chicago, and the Columbia Sussex Hotel in Anchorage. Here is the link to the UNITE HERE website outlining why we should boycott certain properties: http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/HotelGuide/abouttheboycotts.php
The following are examples of why these hotels are on the boycott list: HEI Hotels
● HEI housekeepers are forced to clean too many rooms in allotted time periods, so many do not take rest breaks or lunch time. In San Francisco, where most of HEI’s competitor hotels are union, housekeepers clean 13 rooms per day. In Arlington, Virginia, where fewer competitors are union, housekeepers must clean as many as 32 rooms per day. Some housekeepers do not take their rest breaks or lunch time because they are afraid of intimidation from management or of being fired if they do not finish their assignment. This lack of rest time exacerbates the injuries caused by the already physically straining work demands.
● In the past three years, HEI has had to settle multiple charges with the National Labor Relations Board. In October 2011, “a California State Labor Commission hearing officer found the Embassy Suites in Irvine guilty of denying rest breaks to seven workers and ordered the hotel pay them $36,000. HEI has now settled or been held liable on 32 wage and hour administrative complaints for a total of $99,999 at the Embassy Suites Irvine.”3
● HEI has cut inventories of basic cleaning supplies and materials. This prompted the
1 http://www.heiworkersrising.org/wp-content/uploads/Princeton-Press-Release.pdf 2http://www.heiworkersrising.org/?p=169 3 HEI Student Petition
workers at the Long Beach Hilton to offer to raise the funds themselves to buy supplies. As one of the fastest growing hotel management companies, HEI can afford to supply its workers with materials.
● HEI threatened employees with losing their employment if they continued to participate in union activity and illegally interrogated employees about union activity, according to the Office of General Counsel of the NLRB. Ferdi Lazo, an engineer at the Sheraton Crystal City describes his experience with HEI’s intentional anti-union campaign: “I was fired from HEI for union organizing. I could have walked away and given up the fight, but I knew things could be better. I traveled the country and told my story to students. Together, with my coworkers and the students, we fought hard. HEI offered me $50,000 if I would agree to never come back to the Hotel. I denied their offer and kept fighting. I won my job back and collected a $24,800 settlement.”
Hyatt Hotels ● Hyatt uses subcontracting to destroy good jobs and exploit immigrant workers. On
August 31, 2009, Hyatt fired its entire housekeeping staff at three non-union hotels, replacing women who had worked at Hyatt for decades with workers from a temporary agency. They then required that the fired workers train their replacements, who now earn minimum wage and clean up to 30 rooms per day. Few if any of the subcontracted workers receive health insurance.
● Hyatt housekeepers suffer worse abuse than at any other hotels in the country. A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine examined a total of 50 hotel properties from 5 different hotel companies. It concluded that Hyatt housekeepers had the highest injury rate of all housekeepers studied when compared by hotel company.
● Hyatt dehumanizes their workers and has ignored allegations of sexual harassment. In late September, the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California, fired two housekeepers, sisters Marta and Lorena Reyes. These middle-aged mothers were featured on a “digitally-created collage of bikini-clad “Hyatt Housekeepers” on a company bulletin board. Humiliated by their depiction, Marta removed her image and that of her sister. Soon after, both sisters were fired. The sisters have filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In subsequent sexual harassment trainings, management denied that it had objectified women’s bodies or engaged in any damaging act.4
● Hyatt has refused to remain neutral as non-union hotel workers organize. In Indianapolis, San Antonio, Scottsdale, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Long Beach, Hyatt has refused calls from workers who want the choice to join a union without employer intimidation. Workers in non-union properties report “disrespect from their management, low wages, unaffordable health insurance and high room quotas for room cleaners.5”
● Hyatt turned heat lamps on striking workers during a brutal heat wave. On July 21, 2011, a strike began at the Park Hyatt Chicago. On the same day, an excessive heat warning was issued by the National Weather Service, with heat index readings climbing above 100 degrees in downtown Chicago. Hyatt management responded to the striking workers by turning heat lamps on in the awning above the striking workers for about an hour, until reports issued to the press. The following day, Hyatt released a public statement admitting management was responsible for turning heat lamps on striking workers. Hotel workers are filing charges with the government against Hyatt.
4 http://www.hyatthurts.org/about-the-boycott/ 5 http://www.hyatthurts.org/about-the-boycott/
5 Hotels are placed on the boycott list when they are in some sort of dispute; workers are trying to unionize and there has been resistance, etc. The only way a hotel can make it to a boycott list is if more than 2/3 of workers agree the hotel needs to be boycotted in order for them to be able to collectively bargain.
Workers suffer serious losses from these boycotts in the short term, so when 2/3 of workers vote on a boycott it is a sign that they strongly believe their working conditions need to improve over the long run, because they have had their basic human rights violated.
In response to the illegal and unethical actions of boycotted hotels such as HEI and Hyatt, we propose Macalester take the following action. We ask:
The college fosters a culture in which students, faculty, and staff reflect on the impact of their accommodation choices as part of Macalester’s core values. The college creates a community that encourages a boycott of boycotted hotels and patronizing unionized hotels as part of ethical travel. The college provides MPIRG with appropriate venues to educate the community about labor issues involved in ethical travel.
The way in which we would implement this policy would be by providing a link on Macalester's website to UNITE HERE’s list of boycotted hotels: http:// www.hotelworkersrising.org/HotelGuide/boycott_list.php. This will allow students or professors making travel arrangements to easily check whether their planned hotel(s) are under boycott.
The website would also highly recommend staying in a union hotel and provide a link to the UNITE HERE union hotel guide, where an individual can enter his or her desired location and find union hotels in the area: http://www.hotelworkersrising.org/HotelGuide/.
We are in conversation with administrators in Campus Programs and Campus Life about having this information available on the Macalester website, specifically on the web page that lists lodging in the Twin Cities and on the travel fund form. They feel that this would be easy to implement.
There are also a few other ways in which this policy can be implemented around campus. One way would be through the Travel Approval and Funding Request form student organizations and groups must fill out to receive travel funding from the college. The form should include a question as to whether or not the overnight accommodation (if it is a hotel) is under boycott. The links to the boycotted hotel list and the union hotel guide would be provided in the form for students to easily use. Since students have to apply for funding for travel in advance through this form, this provides an easy outlet for the implementation of this policy. The second way would be student presentations about the policy to the Staff Advisory Council. These presentations would be given by MPIRG’ Economic Justice Taskforce members, or other concerned students who are well versed in the travel policy. In these presentations we would instruct the staff about how to use the website and the importance of this policy.
We also ask this policy extend to speakers or other important figures the college, specifically Campus Programs, provides lodgings for in the Twin Cities.
And finally in addition, we ask that Macalester College send letters to HEI and Hyatt, and to the Columbia Essex and Congress Hotels explaining our boycott policy and how our decision not to patronize their hotels is a reaction to their unfair, illegal, and unethical labor practices.
Potential Obstacles and Considered Alternatives:
Though this proposal is practical, straightforward and in line with Macalester’s values, it is not without its potential obstacles to implementation, which we have thoroughly considered.
It is possible that this policy will lead to some inconveniences while traveling and making lodging arrangements. If the initially chosen hotel is on the boycott list, travelers may have to choose a new hotel. However, we are confident that this process will be smooth and streamlined, and that such conflicts will not occur often. In the implementation of this policy, links to both the boycott list and the directory of union hotels will be inserted in the form for student travel fund requests, and both links will be posted on a convenient page on the Macalester website that explains the policy and is easily accessible to faculty making travel plans.
In addition to making the change easy, this plan in practice will likely not lead to many drastic changes in hotel accommodation. Though the list is dynamic, there are currently 44 properties that are on the boycott list or on strike. None of them are in the state of Minnesota. To contrast, there are three union hotels in St. Paul and 13 in Minneapolis, representing a range of locations and levels of accommodation from a Holiday in Express to the Graves 601, Minneapolis’s only AAA Four Diamond luxury hotel. This case study of the Twin Cities, where Macalester spends a large portion of its money housing guests of the college, shows that as a general rule it will be very easy for the college to avoid boycotted hotels and patronize union hotels without undue inconvenience or any added cost (in fact, boycotted hotels tend overwhelmingly towards high-end luxury brands like Hyatt). There are potential areas of exceptions to this policy. One is if a conference books a faculty member or student in a room in a boycotted hotel. Though this is unlikely to occur with any significant frequency given the relatively small number of boycotted hotels, the college would unfortunately need to relax this policy in that instance. Another potential concern is safety--it has been indicated to us that there may, at times, be safety concerns if hotel accommodations are moved from a boycott hotel to a non-boycott hotel that is further away from the event site, due to extra travel responsibility for the student. Though in extenuating circumstances, we would be willing to allow an exception for this reason, we respectfully contend that this concern is largely unfounded. We must hold in mind that our students are adults who live in an urban area while at school, and most of them are familiar with the use of public transportation and are comfortable traveling on it. In addition, due to the low number of boycotted hotels and the fact that staying in union hotels is not a mandate of the proposal, it should not be difficult to switch from a boycott hotel to an alternative hotel that is an equivalent distance from the event site the student is traveling to attend. If a student or faculty member feels the need to stay at a boycotted hotel for personal reasons, such as having a family member that works at or owns a hotel, or the belief that unions are a negative force This is another acceptable exception, but the student, faculty, or staff member should give this reason when applying for funds, as part of a dialogue we wish to foster on campus surrounding our values and ethical consumerism.
In Fall 2011, we presented a similar proposal to the Social Responsibility Committee that proposed the boycott be considered along with a statement by the college that in the future they would not invest in HEI funds. As Macalester is currently not invested in HEI and has no plans to invest, such a statement would have been purely symbolic, and for this reason and in order to not set a precedent of making statements about hypothetical actions the SRC chose to deny the proposal. We considered these concerns, and concluded that although Macalester is not directly invested in HEI or Hyatt, the college is not free from responsibility. The present proposal is a product of that consideration. This new plan, solely focused on a boycott of hotels with proven poor labor practices, with letters informing the companies behind such practices of our purposes, retains the same symbolic power of the earlier proposal. It allows us to stand with our institutional values and promote good labor practices, while at the same time placing us in solidarity with a student movement at respected universities across the nation to divest from HEI, an enabler of poor and illegal labor practices and race to the bottom. It is also a practical, tangible change in current college policy, not just potential future college policy--it will be an unequivocal statement that Macalester College will not use its funds to promote labor abuses, much the same way it does not use its funds to promote the unsustainable and irresponsible use of bottled water. In short, this proposal will put our practices in line with our values, and represents a practical, logical and easy to implement change in policy. We ask for your support.
SRC final response to MPIRG - EJTF
I am writing to let know the outcome of our meeting to discuss your proposal for unethical travel policy. The SRC reached a consensus not to tender a recommendation to the president on a travel policy with respect to the UNITE HERE-HEI labor dispute.
We are sympathetic to the interests of hotel workers who stand to benefit from higher wages and from a collective voice in setting working conditions. .Your proposal for an ethical travel policy rests on the claims of UNITE HERE, as well as the resources provided by UNITE HERE, to both substantiate and to implement a college travel policy.
These claims and resources must be reasonably clear, accurate, complete, and transparent to form the basis for an institutional commitment to the policies that the Economic Justice Task Force recommends. The members of the SRC did not feel that UNITE HERE’s account of its labor dispute with HEI and its web-site resources meet this test. On the matter of the dispute over union certification procedures, we are not confident that UNITE HERE accurately or completely describes the legal issues at stake, the legality of the HEI opposition to UNITE HERE’s proposed methods for gaining collective bargaining rights, or the foundations of UNITED HERE’s
complaints against HEI lodged with the National Labor Relations Board.
On the matter of recommended and boycotted hotels, the criteria for inclusion are not sufficiently specific, consistent, and transparent. A blanket vote to boycott, without any clear references to the evident grievances that motivate it, does not offer substantially informed guidance to prospective hotel patrons. Under these terms, they cannot make choices that reflect their own ethical commitments.
The procedures for obtaining, registering, and tabulating votes from hotel workers are not known. It may be representative of the whole hotel workforce, a small minority of hotel workers, or somewhere in between. For these reasons, we do not feel that have sufficient grounds to recommend a policy at this time