HEI Hotels & Resorts: Hope is not a business strategy

HEI, is that you?

So, I’ve had a Google alert for HEI Hotels & Resorts for the past month, since just before the story about Vanderbilt’s investment appeared in the Hustler, and keep searching for different updates. I am driving the Mystery Machine on this issue, apparently.

Because here’s the deal: I can’t find a single mainstream media mention of the injustice perpetrated against the hospitality proletariat. Now, okay, TEA PARTY, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything but ch-ch-check out this lede: “Ruthless discretionary private equity fund funded by elite universities and notorious for anti-union business practices, bullies their minimum wage staff.”

Sexy! Problem: I can’t really find anything that doesn’t involve some Ivy leaguers and hotel workers with bees in their bonnets. But, Y’ALL, good news: 13 students at Notre Dame have been fasting all week so the Fightin’ Irish will divest.

Why are they fasting? About what you’d think:

According to a press release issued by the students participating in the strike, “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.”

Furman said workers at HEI who have tried to unionize have faced threats, harassment and in some cases, been fired. The University has previously denied these claims. [...]

The strike began at 8 a.m. Monday morning and will continue through 5:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. Furman said 13 students will fast during the entire period, while others will participate in their own way.

As a news assistant editor told me earlier tonight: The only reason fasting worked for Gandhi is because people actually cared about him. If Oprah (Borpoh) fasted about Princeton’s investment, then they’d have something.

Nonetheless, these The Injustice of Our University Investing in HEI shenanigans have been around for at least two years; Brown* (natch) objected first. Still, nothing, in terms of anything beyond local news stations noting student protests.

Even alleged federal labor complaints only are tied to one hotel — the Crystal City Sheraton. Off of the hard-to-link to HEI Workers Rising site, such testimony accompanies the federal complaint and the subsequent boycott:

“I only make $10.24 an hour to clean rooms. It is hard work and they don’t even show any gratitude or respect for us. They are renting the rooms for such high prices compared to what we are paid – they can pay my whole day of work with just the price of one room!” says Delmy Morales, Sheraton Crystal City Housekeeper of 13 years.

Not exactly power drilling the coffin shut. With the amount of information available about HEI, and the limited number of people who have spoken out about these alleged injustices (I’ve read this guy’s story several times), I could equally spin you a yarn about hotels on the verge of bankruptcy, deep in debt, the kind of property no investor would snatch up — except HEI, noted bare-bones management company, who then preserved the jobs of those who still have them. And, look! In These Times, the Greatest Depression, they still have jobs! They’re even hiring. They even won an award for energy conservation**. Let’s all trudge out in the snow, hold hands and sing fah who for-aze dah who dor-aze.

And so on and so forth.

Of course, their business practices could be very anti-union or discriminatory. With the federal complaint, that Sheraton in Arlington probably fits the bill. What about the other 32 properties owned? Can’t find much about them. I find it a little suspicious this has never broken into MSM coverage, or even local liberal/progressive blog coverage, considering those protests dating back to 2008.

The question of divestment for involved universities is ridiculous, though. It’s a private equity fund — the commitment is guaranteed for what is likely a long period of time. Even if life didn’t work that way, is there really anything here besides non-violence student organizations emailing each other about vague injustices perpetrated against workers somewhere?

*If you read that piece, I don’t want to assume things, but having worked a minimum wage summer job a couple of summers, I think Elizabeth Martinez might be stretching it a little when she says her waitressing job at a hotel was “really a pleasure.” Also, if I flew out to Rhode Island from Long Beach, Ca. to talk about how awful my employer was, I might be a little concerned about my job security as well.

**HEI won an Energy Star award this year for lowering emissions, etc. I know that because I received 9,529 emails about it. Pop that one at the nearest available progressive: THE ENVIRONMENT or THE UNIONLESS MASSES, death is not an option. It’s like someone Daft Punked Cornelius Vanderbilt into The Hustler 2.0: evil and efficient, yet environmentally conscious. Like they say on their awe-inspiring company ideology page: Hope is not a business strategy. Also, always strategize to win.

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