Students Make Beds in Support of DoubleTree Workers

Several employees of the Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel and members of the Student Labor Action Movement set up a bed-making demonstration in the Science Center Plaza Monday afternoon, continuing their year-and-a-half long efforts to support worker unionization at the hotel.

The demonstration built upon a campaign that began after a majority of workers at the hotel signed a petition in March 2013 to launch the process of deciding whether to join UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based union that represents Harvard’s dining hall employees.

Since then, the workers have staged numerous protests, including a June rally that drew hundreds of protesters. The workers hope that Hilton will be more receptive to their preferred means of unionization if Harvard pressures the company. The hotel is not operated by the University but is located in a Harvard-owned building.

At the demonstration, SLAM members and workers elicited passersby to make a queen-sized bed, which was placed in the center of the plaza. Other SLAM members handed out fliers to raise awareness about working conditions at the hotel.

“We’re trying to show that we think of making beds as an easy chore, but it’s not,” SLAM member Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash ’15 said. “Workers at the Doubletree have to clean twice as many beds as workers in unionized hotels in Boston. They are expected to do an unreasonable amount of work in a short amount of time.”

The DoubleTree workers have received broad support from the community in the past, with endorsements from the Undergraduate Council and Cambridge City Council. Sandalow-Ash said this event was meant to raise awareness among freshmen.

Jessica L. Jin ’18 and Jackson H. Allen ’18 stopped by the Science Center demonstration to make the bed on their way from lunch in Annenberg, wrestling pillows into cases and laying sheets on the bed.

“We have free time, and it looked interesting,” Jin said. “It was stressful, and it’s more physically strenuous than you would imagine.”

Veteran DoubleTree worker Emma Perdomo gave the students pointers as they worked, while SLAM members cheered them on. When the bed was made, Perdomo gave them a grade: a B-minus.

“It was interesting to learn what [the campaign] is all about,” Allen said. “Harvard has a responsibility to make sure that all the businesses and stuff that they own should treat their workers fairly and should pay them for all hard work that they do, as we saw.”

Harvard has maintained its position that the issue should be resolved between Hilton and its employees, according to a July letter from Kevin Casey, Harvard’s associate vice president for public affairs and communication, to the DoubleTree management.

Company officials do not believe that a true majority of DoubleTree workers wish to be represented by any union for the purposes of collective bargaining, according to comments from a Hilton Worldwide spokesperson last April. Still, DoubleTree workers and students remain persistent in their activism.

“We want to show how hard the housekeeping is,” Perdomo said. “We just are fighting, and we can’t stop because we want labor security and job security. Harvard needs to listen to the housekeepers of the DoubleTree hotel.”

Maids school Harvard kids on bed-making

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make a bed.  But some of the nation’s leading brainiacs — Harvard students — don’t know how, and they humbly accepted instruction on the subject yesterday from the experts: hotel maids.  Click on the title to watch the video.


Harvard students struggle to make the bed

HarvardFrantically making an outdoor bed while a hotel maid taunted them via loudspeaker, dozens of America’s best and brightest took turns tucking, folding, and failing in front of a crowd of classmates outside Harvard Science Center on Monday.

“I did it once, and I’m already sweating,” said Alexis Lewandowski, a freshman studying economics. When she was done, the bed barely passed inspection.

Here at America’s intellectual epicenter, complicated algorithms are easier to find than a well-made bed. On Monday, a stunt organized by groups supporting a unionization push at a Harvard-owned hotel near the Charles River challenged all who happened by to prove that they could still make good on mom’s old request: Make the bed for once.

Giving lessons and occasional grief was Emma Perdomo, a 10-year employee of the Hilton DoubleTree Suites hotel, who was among the workers there who inquired about unionizing in March 2013. The university declined to get involved or to guarantee a fair process for a vote, and the disagreement has been simmering ever since.

A university spokeswoman forwarded a letter leaving the labor decision to Hilton, which manages the hotel; DoubleTree by Hilton is one of several brands under the Hilton Worldwide umbrella.

Every day, Perdomo, 54, makes about 30 beds like the one that showed up on a wooden platform in the middle of campus Monday.

In order: flat sheet, flat sheet, blanket, flat sheet, duvet. Tuck everything in so tight that a horse couldn’t kick its way out of bed, and you are done once you throw on the pillows. Do this less than once a year, and you’re a typical college student. “I’m gonna get back into it that night anyway,” explained Kareli Osorio, a freshman studying folklore and mythology. (Bed status on Monday at noon: unmade.) “I just throw the covers over,” said Lewandowski (unmade).

Donning gray hotel maid shirts, Lewandowski and her friend, Shantell Williams, worked up a legitimate sweat trying to get everything straight and tucked, though in fairness, few beds are set on platforms in the hot sun, surrounded by food trucks, gawkers, and the assembled media. Perdomo gave them a generous C+.

Like many of the future Masters of the Universe who happened by Monday, Lewandowski may not have to worry about making her own bed for long.

“I can build and investigate swarm optimization algorithms but I really don’t know how to make my bed,” said junior Alex Chen, who is a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, or SLAM, on campus.

“Too slow! Too slow!” Perdomo warned again. Over the course of about 90 minutes, one pair managed to earn a B from Perdomo, though she spent most of their session talking with a reporter and did not notice that they had totally blown it with the duvet cover.

On Monday, it was always the duvet cover, unless it was the sheets. Many hotels do not use fitted sheets, a cost-saving measure that streamlines inventory and laundry systems, and results in more even wear over time. But how to fold and tuck the various sheets requires its own optimization algorithm.

DoubleTree lobby worker Nelson Labor came to show solidarity with the cleaning workers. Watching Osorio with alternating exclamations of glee and horror, he finally lent a hand, explaining that the duvet actually goes inside the duvet cover.

Their ragged bed was finally made. “It’s good,” he lied. “It looks good.”

Marriott tipping plan draws attention to housekeepers’ needs

In an uncertain environment, training programs, not tips, represent the best hope for
the economic advancement of room attendants. Unite Here Local 26, which represents
the Boston area’s unionized hospitality workers, offers such training that enables
housekeepers to move into progressively better jobs at unionized hotels.

Read more

Bay State Banner: Initiative trains black workers for Boston-area hotel jobs

Mayor Martin Walsh joined members of Boston’s hospitality union, Local 26, and executives from several local hotels yesterday to celebrate the graduation of the first African-American hospitality training class from Local 26’s Best Corp Hospitality Training Center. At the event, Local 26 announced that the class would be named the “Mel King Empowerment Program” in honor of longtime community activist and former state legislator Mel King.

“I commend Local 26 hotel workers for standing up for fairness and equality for all of Boston’s residents,” Walsh said. “Together, the union and their hotel employer partners are making strides to ensure that people of color have access to life-changing career paths in the hotel industry.”

The class is a four-week “Intro to Hospitality” training that includes job shadowing at several of the best hotels in Boston. After graduates complete the class, Local 26 works with hotels to place graduates into hotel jobs.

“Union hotel jobs are good jobs, with low-cost full-coverage healthcare, high wages, and a pension,” said Brian Lang, President of Local 26. “We know that forming a partnership with the best hotel employers in New England to recruit, train and hire African Americans is good for the hospitality industry and is good for the neighborhoods of Boston. We’re proud to see members of the first graduating class start their union jobs this month.”

Local 26 negotiated diversity language into its contracts with 29 Boston area hotels after noticing a decline in African-American representation in the hospitality industry. Local 26’s “Best Corp Hospitality Training Center” coordinates with the hotels on a training class for African Americans.

“I’ve been a cook for more than 25 years, but it’s always been a struggle to make ends meet,” said Bobby Oliver, 49, a resident of Dorchester who graduated from the class last month. “During the hospitality training class, I was able to shadow employees at the Westin Waterfront, and now I’ve got an interview with the General Manager. Getting a union job with higher wages and benefits will really change the lives of my three kids.”

Local 26 represents 7,000 workers in the hospitality industries in the Greater Boston Area. Members include workers of hotels, restaurants, university dining services, the Boston Convention Centers, Fenway Park and Logan International Airport.