The Student Labor Action Movement once again called for Harvard University to cease investing in HEI Hotels & Resorts at an event Thursday where an employee of a hotel that is managed by the investment group spoke of a demotion he called unjust.
David Williamson, an employee at an Embassy Suites hotel in Irvine, Calif., said that he was once a well-paid janitor with benefits, according to William P. Whitham ’14 and Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, who are both SLAM members. Whitham said that when Williamson had to take some time off to assist his wife, who was diagnosed with glaucoma, he said he was demoted to one of the lowest janitorial positions, stripped of his benefits, and faced a decrease in pay.
The event came one day before the University of Pennsylvania announced that it would no longer make investments in the company. Prior to that, Brown University had said that it would end future investment in HEI.
SLAM is submitting a report to the University’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility calling for an end of investment in HEI, according to Korn, who is also a Crimson editorial writer. HEI has been accused by the United Students Against Sweatshops of violating worker rights in their hotels, including coercing workers and union busting.
“As a non-profit organization receiving tax breaks, Harvard has a standard of social responsibility,” Whitham said. “When Harvard invests money in ways that have negative effects on people, we believe the University should be held accountable.”
The University, however, has remained silent on the investment.
“While we do not generally discuss individual investments or investment strategies, Harvard has a strong institutional presumption against divesting stock for reasons unrelated to investment purposes,” Longbrake said, reiterating comments made earlier this year.
UNITE HERE, a union which includes hotel and food service workers such as employees in Harvard’s dining halls, has been trying to unionize workers in HEI-owned hotels but has been unsuccessful, which a leader of a local division of the union attributed to union-busting practices within the company.
“HEI runs a campaign of intimidation,” Edward B. Childs, the chief steward at UNITE HERE Local 26, said in an interview. “HEI is a terrible corporation. HEI must be stopped.”
SLAM is hopeful that the decision of Brown, as well as the more recent decision by Penn, to end future investment in HEI will spur Harvard to terminate its own investment in the company.
“We hope that Harvard will look at how other Ivy League schools have chosen not to invest,” Whitham said. “All Ivies have the same ethical standards and responsibilities.”
—Staff Writer Mercer R. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.