“We’re Human Beings. We’re Not Machines.”

Each winter since 1998, the Hey (fifth grade) class of the Shule has taken to the streets to protest a local labor injustice. After talking about the sweatshop conditions in which many of their ancestors worked, Hey students put what they’ve learned into action by standing up against workplace injustices still happening today. You can join them at their protest of Le Meridien Hotel in Cambridge, this December 9.

Here’s a description of the issues from Boston’s Local 26:

HEI Hospitality is a private equity hotelier that was founded in 2003.  HEI owns and manages over 40 hotels across the country.  

While it owns a hotel, HEI employs a range of techniques to bring costs down. Employee experiences include:

  • Cutting back on staffing levels—HEI reduces the hours of some workers, lays off others, and even eliminates entire job functions.
  • In late 2011, HEI settled or was held liable on 32 wage and hour administrative complaints for a total of $99,999 in damages at the Embassy Suites Irvine, for denying workers rest breaks. A total of 65 additional wage and hour administrative complaints have since been filed at the HEI-owned Hilton Long Beach, Hilton Mission Valley and W. Hollywood hotels.
  • Shortages in the basic materials workers need to do their jobs—employees report struggling to find enough towels and linens, and workers have encountered shortages of basic cleaning supplies like sponges and vacuum cleaners.

In the past three years, HEI has had to settle multiple charges with the National Labor Relations Board. Complaints alleged, among other things, that HEI threatened employees with losing their employment if they continued to participate in union activity and illegally interrogated employees about union activity.

In March 2012, over 70% of the workers at HEI’s Le Meridien Cambridge demanded a fair process to decide on unionization. Management refused the workers’ demands. Thus, hundreds of workers and community members took to the streets to call on visitors to honor their request by not patronizing the Le Meridien, Cambridge until they too secure the respect and voice they deserve.

Here’s what Rosa de la Rosa, a housekeeper at the Le Meridien Cambridge, has to say about working conditions:

“Being a housekeeper is a difficult job, but under HEI it is worse. We have to clean 16, 17 or even 19 or 21 rooms a day. We clean the rooms, take out the recycling, change all the paper goods, change the bathroom curtains, dust everything, and move all the tables. We have to clean each room in less than 30 minutes. How can you do a good job? Sometimes there is no spray to clean the bathroom, so we have to use shampoo. Sometimes linens are ripped or stained. We have to use them because there is nothing else to use. We have to work, work, work. We’re human beings. We’re not machines. They still haven’t invented a machine as fast as us. Because of the speed at which we are forced to work, there is a great burden on our bodies. My hands, my feet, my back are all injured. My doctor tells me that my health problems are because of my workload.”