For immediate release
April 19, 2010
What: A coalition of Notre Dame students will begin a five-day hunger strike today to protest Notre Dame’s investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts
Where: Outside Main Building, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Delegation to President Jenkins’ office at 9am, April 19
Protest will continue from April 19 through April 23
Notre Dame students will begin a five-day hunger strike on Monday, April 19 calling on the university to take concrete action against HEI Hotels and Resorts, a company in which the university is invested. Since fall of 2008, students have raised concerns about the unethical labor practices of HEI by leafleting, protesting, meeting with administrators and organizing teach-ins on campus with HEI hotel workers who are leading the struggle for justice at their workplace. 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. Notre Dame claims to uphold these teachings in its investment policy, but the administration has yet to take seriously the injustices facing HEI workers and has even disciplined students for handing out leaflets about the company. The hunger strike is a call for the university to uphold its professed Catholic mission in its investment practices. "I am doing the hunger strike as an act of solidarity with the workers of these hotels that are overworked and disrespected, so the university can realize that being shown dignity and respect is vital to our existence, and when that isn’t happening, it is a serious problem. We are calling on Father Jenkins and the administration to transform the knowledge and teachings of the church into service for justice," said Roman Sanchez.
During the hunger strike, students will have constant presence outside of Main Building, where the presidents’ office is housed, from Monday, April 19 to Friday, April 23, raising awareness and gathering signatures on a petition. Many of the strikers will be wearing orange jumpsuits throughout the week to call attention to the issue.
Using university investment money, HEI buys hotels in order to sell them again at a profit in 8-12 years. The company attempts to increase profits at their hotels, using various tactics to cut costs at the expense of their workers. Workers have experienced cuts in staffing – HEI has reduced the hours of some workers, laid off others, and even eliminated entire job functions. Shortages in the basic materials and cleaning supplies have also been reported, making it even harder for workers to do their job. Housekeepers at the Sheraton Crytsal City have spoken out about the dangers of their job and the increase in their already heavy workloads since HEI bought and started managing their property. All of these actions by HEI make already difficult and dangerous work even worse. Virginia Portillo, a Room Attendant at the Sheraton Crystal City described her work: “For each bed that I make, I have to lift the mattress 12 times. If you multiply that by 2 for all of the double rooms and by at least 16 for all of the rooms we clean, that is a lot. I can’t lift my arm above my shoulder, and I have severe pain in my lower back. Other workers at the hotel have complained about the same thing. It hurts to lie down, so I can never rest. I have to take painkillers just so that I can work.” Maria Patlan, a Housekeeper at the HEI Hilton Long Beach Hotel says the most difficult part is “to do my job while in pain. I do the work of two people.” According to a study published in the Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2009, hotel housekeepers suffer a rate of injuries 25% higher than any other service industry job. In addition, employees have spoken out about the level of disrespect by management as well as the rising cost of health coverage.
These conditions have prompted HEI workers across the country to organize. HEI has tried to block their efforts by hiring anti-union consultants. HEI workers have testified to National Labor Relations Board investigators that they were threatened and retaliated against for their union activity. The Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has issued complaints against HEI alleging that the company broke labor laws by, “Inform[ing] its employees that it would be futile for them to select a union as their bargaining representative by implying they would not get a pay raise,” and “Threaten[ing] employees with losing their employment, if they continued to participate in union activity.” The complaints also allege that Ferdi Lazo, a union leader at the Sheraton Crystal City hotel, was fired because of his role in the union. HEI denies these allegations and will face a hearing at the NLRB beginning June 7, 2010.
"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," said Liz Furman, one of the hunger strikers.