Close to a thousand workers and their supporters marched Wednesday, June 25, from Riverside Press Park in Cambridge to DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel in Allston, loudly demanding their right to unionize.
“I want health insurance and a fair process for me and my coworkers, a fair contract and respect,” Midonia Portillo, 41, a Cambridge resident who works at DoubleTree, said in Spanish.
Workers and housekeepers at the Harvard University-owned building have been fighting for a fair process to unionize since March 2013 when they signed a petition.
Though the university does not operate the Soldiers Field Road hotel, protesters hope Harvard will step up and intervene on their behalf.
“They declared a boycott of the hotel in March of this year and the hotel is owned by Harvard, and so they are asking Harvard to do the right thing, to take action to help them have better lives,” said Tiffany Teneyck, organizer with UNITE HERE! Local 26, a Massachusetts-based hospitality workers union that represents food service staff at Harvard.
Protesters marched down Cambridge Street, sporting gray Local 26 T-shirts and picket signs that read, “Boycott Harvard’s DoubleTree Hotel.”
“Me and my colleagues are fighting for a fair process. We’re fighting for health insurance,” Sandra Hernandez, 50, told the crowd in Spanish on a megaphone with the help of an interpreter. “My husband and my daughter don’t have any. I want Harvard to listen to this petition that we’re making.”
Nelson Labor, a Chelsea resident who has worked as a lobby attendant at the hotel for nine years, cannot afford to purchase health insurance through the hotel, so he buys it through a cheaper entity, he said.
“We need better insurance for our future,” Labor, 39, told the Chronicle, adding that he has hurt his back three times at work and cannot go to a doctor because his insurance doesn’t cover follow-up appointments.
But workers weren’t alone asking Harvard to step up to the plate, students at the Ivy League school rallied side-by-side with DoubleTree employees.
“We think that Harvard has a responsibility to support all workers in its community, especially those who work on a property that Harvard owns, and so we are trying to help them get a fair process,” David Clifton, 19, a rising sophomore, said in an interview.
Cambridge City Councilor Marc McGovern also joined protesters. He said he will always stand with working people who want a better quality of life and fair treatment.
“Harvard is hiding behind the fact that they subcontract management of the building out to the Hilton, and my position is they don’t get to do that. They’re the owners of the building. They need to step up and do the right thing,” McGovern told the Chronicle.