Protestors demand fair union process at Harvard-owned DoubleTree hotel

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.

Boston mayor to sign act limiting immigration holds

Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared Wednesday he would sign a city ordinance to prohibit Boston police from detaining illegal immigrants for possible deportation, unless they were convicted of a serious crime.

The proposal is still in its early stages, but Walsh’s announcement to a jubilant convention of mostly immigrant union delegates at the Hynes Convention Center drew a standing ovation and some tears, even as critics warned that the plan could backfire and lead to the release of dangerous criminals.

Walsh said he expected Boston would pass its own version of the Trust Act, legislation that is emerging nationwide as a way to limit the immigrants that state and local police turn over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement after an arrest or traffic stop. Walsh said City Councilor Josh Zakim would file legislation this week to make clear that police should not detain immigrants for ICE after a judge has released them, unless the immigrants “have committed serious crimes.”

“I’m assuming the council is going to pass the Trust Act, and I’m going to sign the Trust Act,” Walsh said in remarks to reporters as he attended an event at a Boston school Wednesday night. Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, added, “Many people who are in this country are undocumented. I’m certainly not going to have my police department picking up every single person in the country, state, or the city that’s undocumented.”

Though Walsh said last year he supported the Trust Act, his speech Wednesday marked a departure from the past administration of Mayor Thomas M. Menino. In 2008, Boston was one of the first cities to launch the Secure Communities program, which lets federal agents check the fingerprints of anyone arrested by state and local police. ICE can then ask police to detain immigrants for up to 48 hours after they are released so that immigration officials can take them into custody.

City officials had argued that Secure Communities helped rid Boston of gang members and other criminals. But federal statistics showed nearly half the 757 deportees from Boston and Suffolk County from 2008 through March had no criminal record. Nationwide, only 20 percent of deportees had no record.

Advocates for immigrants hailed the news Wednesday. Many have said Boston’s policies had made immigrants afraid to report crimes.

“We’re thrilled,” said Brian Lang, president of Unite Here Local 26 in Boston, and who introduced Walsh before he announced the proposal to 1,000 union delegates attending an international convention of restaurant and hospitality workers. “As a union, we think this is a central issue for worker’s rights.”

“It’s sending a very important message, not just to the rest of the state, but to the rest of the country,” said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, a statewide immigrant group based in Somerville.

But critics say Walsh’s push frustrates efforts to get federal and local law enforcement agencies to work together better, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank, said failing to report illegal immigrants opens the door to future crimes. In 2008, a Salvadoran man with a criminal record killed three members of the same family in San Francisco. In 2011, a man from Ecuador with a record brutally murdered a Brockton woman and her son.

“What is Mayor Walsh going to say to the family member of somebody who gets killed or maimed or raped by a criminal alien who should have been held by Boston police but was let go because of this ordinance?” she said.

Zakim countered that immigrants accused of crimes must first clear the criminal justice system. If a judge releases them, he said, then ICE can pick them up. But, under his plan, the city will no longer pay to jail them for ICE.

“Boston has a rightfully earned a reputation as a place that’s welcoming and open to everyone,” Zakim said in a telephone interview. He added, “To hold someone at city expense for a civil violation just seems unnecessary and not the way Boston should be.”

Though ICE has always been able to jail immigrants, the Secure Communities technology dramatically enhanced the federal agency’s ability to detect illegal immigrants through state and local police. In 2012, over Governor Deval Patrick’s objections, ICE expanded the program across Massachusetts, and it is now operating nationwide.

In recent years, however, advocates for immigrants have chipped away at ICE’s ability to detain immigrants, many passing their own versions of the “Trust Act.”

Last year, Connecticut and California passed state laws limiting detainers, joining more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide that are curbing their cooperation with ICE, according to immigrant advocacy groups tracking the legislation.

In May, Somerville became the first Massachusetts city to limit ICE detainers to immigrants accused of or convicted of a serious crime.

Zakim said he would limit detainers only to immigrants convicted of serious crimes.

A bill is also pending in the state Legislature that would limit ICE detainers statewide to adult immigrants who have served at least five years in prison.

Boston is now home to 167,000 immigrants, about 26 percent of the city, according to the census, and slightly more than half are not US citizens, a likely mix of immigrants here legally and illegally.

ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Sheryl Sandberg Leans Out of Hotel Worker Meeting

Earlier this week, a group of housekeepers, nightclub servers and other employees from a Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Cambridge, which is on a property owned by Harvard, gathered outside the gates of the university while Sheryl Sandberg delivered a speech to this year’s graduates. It was a last ditch attempt by these workers to score a meeting with the Facebook COO, who had already declined their invitation to meet with them and host a “Lean In circle,” saying she didn’t have the time.

What a missed opportunity.

Okay, yes, the invitation to Sandberg was by-and-large a publicity stunt (and a great one, at that) by the union to draw attention to their campaign to organize these workers, 70% of whom have signed a petition asking for “fair process,” according to a story in the Boston Globe.

But behind it was a chance to illustrate, first-hand, the ways in which Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy can apply to all women, including the ones who clean-up the boardrooms and serve coffee at the high-end women’s networking conferences she attends. These workers are looking for a higher wage, affordable health insurance and standardized workloads. A recent survey of the DoubleTree workers by a Harvard student found that every employee suffered from chronic pain as a result of the job and all said their workloads had increased in recent years.

One of the abiding criticisms of Sandbergian feminism is that is elitist, and relies on a sort of trickle-down feminism to help most women: basically, get more female CEOs and the rest will fall in place. Of course, the world doesn’t exactly work like that and with 70% of Americans either living in or on the brink of poverty women, that is something we can’t ignore.

The Lean In foundations rejects these accusations, saying that its model can serve lower-income women as well. According to the Globe, they’ve partnered with Dress for Success, and support Lean In circles of domestic workers in San Francisco and rescued sex slaves in Miami. “The principles of Lean In are just as, if not more, important to women with lower incomes,” Lean In foundation spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Globe in an e-mail.

Still, meeting with this group would have taken this commitment an important step further. Sandberg and Lean In would not just have been expanding their halo to include working class women, but also the institutions that can help them. In this case that institution is the labor movement. The fact is, it has never been and will never be easy for a nightclub waitress or a housekeeper working for a large corporation to lean in on her own. Let’s put it this way: if someone with an MBA from Harvard needs a book like Sandberg’s to give her the confidence to demand parity in the workplace, you can only imagine what an immigrant women with far less education needs to fighting the same top bosses for what she believes is just.

In her Class Day speech Sandberg told the audience that expectations for solving gender equality are too low today. I agree. I think a large part of the problem is the feeling that we have to go at it alone, and make changes in our lives and homes instead of fighting for systemic ones. But here was a group of women whose expectations were as high as their willingness to fight. Too bad Sandberg didn’t take 20 minutes to help them lean in even harder.

What Does a Las Vegas Casino Have to Do With the Battle Over a UFC Match in Boston?

For years, a union in Las Vegas has been embroiled in a battle with the co-owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship league because of their stake in casinos in Nevada.

It’s that fight, outside of the ring, that UFC President Dana White said has prompted the union to follow the sporting league from city to city, trying to get scheduled bouts canceled, and smearing his name in the process. “They are like gnats. They are like buzzing little gnats that won’t go away,” said White, who was in Boston on Tuesday to promote an upcoming UFC fight at the TD Garden. “People [in this union] are doing dirty things, and it continues to go on even now.”

After 66 Years, Newbury Street Doorman Retires

Norman Pashoian, 85, worked his final day as a doorman at the Taj Hotel, formerly the Ritz Carlton, on Wednesday.   Pashoian reported to work Aug. 4, 1947, for the first day of his first job.   He has met many famous guests. “Here I was, just in my early 20s, and I was seeing someone as famous as [Winston] Churchill.  I was amazed.”  Pashoian said he went through more than a dozen hats during his career, or one every few years.  “He’s like a cucumber,” said Ibrahim Assaf, 55, a doorman who has worked beside Pashoian for 27 years. “Calm and cool.”  Congratulations Norman!!