A handful of protestors marched on the front lawn of Cambridge City Hall on Monday October 15, 2012 in support of hotel workers who are calling for a boycott on their own employer, the Le Méridien Hotel in Cambridge. The gathering marks the three years that the management of the Le Méridien Hotel was taken over by an out-of-town private equity firm, HEI Hospitality, LLC.
“I don’t think the city should spend a nickel there, and I don’t think anyone else should,” said Cambridge Councilor Kenneth Reeves, who brought the resolution to boycott the Le Méridien before the council.
“These Bain Capital type operations celebrate how much millions they’ve made by squeezing their workers,” said Councilor Reeves.
At one point the hotel had much as a hundred employees. They are now down to about seventy and falling.
“Since HEI took ownership of the hotel, workers have reported staff cutting and increased healthcare costs,” said Henry Green, Financial Secretary and Treasurer of Local 26.
“Many workers are not only working one job but three and five jobs [at the Le Méridien],” said Mr. Green who added that many of these workers, 95% of who are immigrant who still have to work a part time jobs to earn a living.
“Management eliminated the hostess and instead mounted a phone behind the bar and now expect me to take the reservations,” said Robert Boudreau, a bartender who has worked for the Le Méridien for the last ten years.
“Room service hours have also been cut,” said Mr. Boudreau, who now has to deliver room service at the busiest times of his shift.
Mr. Boudreau recalls that there is a Sudanese dishwasher who, in the first year after HEI took over received an “8 cent raise, and an 11 cent raise the second year. Well under the 18% the management company highlight on its website,” said Mr. Boudreau.
Councilor Reeves recalls a time when the hotel used to receive “many, many awards for it hospitality, quality of service and reputation.”
Councilor Reeves now receives countless complaints from workers who say that their job, which used to only comprise one thing, involves multitasking to perform many other jobs.
“You’re the desk person, you become the concierge, you become room service, you become night time security and you don’t get paid any more money,” said Councilor Reeves.
One recent Yelp Hotel and Restaurant reviews of the hotel noted that Le Méridien was a five star hotel with 2 star service. And Google reviews of Le Méridien are down to 18 out of 50 people recommending the hotel.
“Mi nombre es Maria De la Rosa,” a housekeeper who has worked for the Le Méridien for 14 years said in Spanish. Wearing a red local 26 shirt over her uniform, she stood before the Mayor and council with a translator.
“My job is very, very difficult, many of us have hands that hurt and backs that hurt. We’re not complaining about working but we want a job that is healthier and better for us.”
As a housekeeper, Mrs. De la Rosa, who did not want to provide her contact information for fear of being targeted, has gone from cleaning 10-12 rooms to 16-20 rooms nightly.
While the Manager of the Le Méridien, Ryan O’Hare, could not be reached for comment, he did send an email to Councilor Reeve’s stating this: “No one from the City Council has contacted me,” wrote O’Hare, who stated that the hotel has sponsored “employee wellness programs” to benefit the workers of the Le Méridien.
Councilor Reeves added that HEI will “squeeze” a hotel like the Le Méridien like this for 2-3 years then sell it at a profit. Councilor Reeves stated that for weeks his calls and emails received no reply from the Le Méridien.
Whether Mr. O’Hare will comply with the 70% of his workers who have signed a petition in March for a fair process is still to be seen. For Mr. Green, it is clear that the quality of life for the workers at the hotel is threatened.
“When workers earn a decent wage, they are able to contribute to the economy and their community. They have more time to spend with their families and less stress,” said Mr. Green.
by ML Cornwall