Last week, one bit of flash-point news was a local firefighter union’s decision to boycott the employer of a local resident who spoke up against union interests at a public meeting. Over the weekend, an acquaintance of mine who has periodically stayed at the Hilton Providence sent me a letter that he’d received from Unite Here Local 217 Boycott Coordinator Guy Rossman encouraging patrons to boycott the hotel.
My acquaintance was mostly disturbed by the mystery of how the union got his mailing address (“That’s the scary part.”), but the content of the letter might be the more profoundly disturbing factor:
To Whom It May Concern:
We are writing to inform potential customers of the Hilton Providence Hotel of an ongoing labor boycott of this hotel.
In February 2014, a majority of workers at the Hilton Providence presented their hotel manager with a petition requesting a fair process to decide on unionization. The workers face sub-living-wage levels, back-breaking workloads and deep disrespect from management. So far the owner of the Hotel, the Procaccianti Group (TPG), has refused to grant employees a fair process.
However, The Procaccianti Group has responded with intimidating anti-union tactics, leading to a June 30, 2014 federal government complaint charging the Hotel with serious unfair labor practices. To avoid further civil prosecution, the Hotel settled with the government on the eve of the trial. This led to the shame of government notices posted throughout the Hotel through January 2015. Yet the Hotel refused to admit any responsibility for breaking the law. This makes its promises hollow for workers, who cannot be sure what the Hotel has promised to stop. The Union did not sign the settlement. Even now, the Hotel refuses to renounce, anti-union campaigning, and refuses to honor a fair process.
On April 15, 2015, workers at the hotel announced that a boycott of the hotel until the dispute is resolved. They join workers at the Procaccianti-owned Renaissance Hotel in Providence who called for a boycott of their hotel last year. A boycott is when hotel or restaurant workers ask individuals and organizations not to eat, meet or sleep at their place of employment. Although the cause of worker-called boycotts can vary, the effects are similar. Rallies, picket lines, increased security activity, leafleting, and vigils are all possibilities when visiting boycotted hotels and restaurants.
As a leader in your organization, you have an important role to play. Attendees should not be asked to cross picket lines to participate in your event. The Unitarian Universalist Association withdrew an 847-room block for an event scheduled for June 2014. You can too. Please contact me as soon as possible about this matter.
Note the complaint that the company is engaging in “anti-union campaigning,” yet the union is explicitly engaging in anti-hotel campaigning. As covered in this space, before, the Procaccianti Group disputes many of the assertions in Rossman’s letter. Depending how the union collected its mailing list, the hotel’s managers might have no way of responding to the allegations, because they may not know who the recipients are. (An email to Rossman sent earlier this morning has received no response; I’ll post an answer if I receive one.)
If I were hotel management, I’d be tempted to ask customers to use these letters as coupons for discounted rooms or meals. But that would probably be considered an “unfair labor practice” in our one-sided legal regime. After all, in an environment in which a business can’t impose at least a minimal expectation that employees will not actively attempt to direct its customers elsewhere, a reasonable response to subversive bullying may very well be proscribed, even if the tactic would be what a healthy, pluralistic society should prescribe.
[Note: The lead lawyer for Procaccianti is on the board of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, for which I work. I have not consulted with anybody within either organization prior to publishing this post, and my record proves that my employment has no effect on my opinion in such matters.]