Images by Katherine Tamola
Chants of “Si se puede!” rang through the Science Center Plaza at Harvard University last night.
Students, striking workers from from the DoubleTree, Sheraton, and other hotels, faculty, and passersby gathered, with many hoisting crimson, yellow, and white signs that read, “Our Pain Harvard’s Gain.” Their message: The treatment of these low-wage workers is horrendous, and people need to know about it.
Rachel Sandalow-Ash, a senior social studies major at Harvard and member of the student labor action movement on campus, touched on the importance of the action:
“Workers at DoubleTree face abusive conditions, 100 percent of those who were surveyed of the housekeepers were in pain at the time. They face some of the most dangerous conditions among hospitality workers in Massachusetts. Workers have to clean twice as many suites as a hotel in Boston, which has led to a high rate of injury, a lot of people breaking their backs … literally and figuratively.”
Bonita Wilson, a cook at Lesley University, noted that she doesn’t know any DoubleTree employees personally, but wanted to stand in solidarity with them.
“I’ve met some when we had rallies,” Wilson told the Dig. “They supported us, so we support them. We had no rights. Now we are in the union, Local 26.”
Among the members of Local 26, the Boston Hospitality Workers Union: those who work in hotels, restaurants, university dining halls, area convention centers, Fenway Park, and Logan Airport. They were easy to spot around Harvard, both for their placards and their red and white rally shirts.
Speaking to the crowd in Spanish, a 22-year DoubleTree employee named Sandra Hernandez thanked the attendees. A translator flanked her the whole time.
“One of my daughters, who is nine years old, she needs a mother who is not in pain,” Hernandez said. “That is why I am here fighting for a fair process. I want them to listen to us. I don’t want to be in pain any longer.”
Next up was Angela Leocota, leader of the Student Labor Action Movement at Harvard University. The first person in her family to attend college, she laid into her college for their silence on the issue.
“That admissions letter convinced me that people from working class backgrounds were welcome here,” she said. “But it’s only taken a few months here to realize that that could not be further from the truth.”
Leocota continued: “I am furious that Harvard has yet to recognize that workers are the ones that run this university, that housekeepers are the ones who run hotels, and that you are the ones that run the DoubleTree … I am ashamed to say I go here, but I am inspired by you. Workers and students here together, envisioning a community of basic dignity and respect for everyone, this is what Harvard should aspire to.”
Katie Blaisdell, a dual degree student from the Harvard Divinity and Kennedy schools, spoke as a representative of grad student support on this issue.
“I chose to study ministry and public policy because that was my way of living my values,” Blaisdell said. “I am shocked and I am appalled and I am horrified that Harvard is taking choices away from its workers, that Harvard is giving DoubleTree workers the awful choice of caring for their bodies or keeping the jobs they need to care for their families.”