It's bad news for workers when hotel management company HEI Hospitality buys a new hotel. In Cambridge, Massachusetts
, HEI's purchase of the former Hotel@MIT, which it turned into a Le Meridien, has left workers struggling not just with staffing cuts leading to heavy workloads, but with the loss of their Thanksgiving turkey. The hotel's previous owners had always given workers a turkey as a Thanksgiving bonus; with HEI having done away with that practice, UNITE HERE Local 26, which is working with but doesn't represent the Le Meridien workers, stepped in to fill the gap. "Tom the Turkey" distributed turkeys to hotel staff Monday afternoon, while making a run for most puns
in a press statement ever:
"Le Meridien’s owners have groused about this meaningful tradition, to the point that they have carved it out completely," said Tom. "They are using cut backs to make gravy and are stuffing their pockets. The new owners cannot continue to peck and scratch at the housekeepers, kitchen staff, and others—the workers who make a hotel run."
HEI buys hotels and tries to turn them around for a profit
over a period of years, and making cuts to the workers is one of the big tactics HEI uses. At the Cambridge Le Meridien, according to Local 26 and workers at the hotel, staff was cut from 100 to 70. HEI disputes this with the traditional "the union is lying and duping workers" line, saying that really, workers are very happy.
Nichols paints a different picture, starting with her own experience as a housecleaner starting about a year ago. She often worked 40 hours a week but was paid part-time, she said, before being promoted to working the front desk. Those who carry on as housecleaners can handle up to 30 rooms a day instead of the industry norm of 10, while other staff can be called upon to perform the roles of six or seven workers at a time. “There’s no concierge, no hotel operator,” she said, “no security days or evenings, even at times like New Year’s,” and at any given time there will be either a doorman or bellhop. The cuts in positions extended to the restaurant, she said.
The Cambridge City Council
has endorsed a boycott of the Le Meridien; after HEI raised money from university endowments for a 2008 expansion, student activism
pushed Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Vanderbilt to say that they would not reinvest in the company. UNITE HERE Local 26 is, at this point, just trying to get a fair process without obstruction and intimidation to talk to workers about organizing.