Workers at Harvard University-owned DoubleTree Hotel win fight for unionization, 2013-2015

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
11 March
7 April
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Boston, Massachusetts
Workers at DoubleTree Hilton Hotel Boston demanded a fair processes in deciding to unionize with UNITE HERE! Local 26 from their management.

On 11 March 2013, SLAM and 70 percent of the approximately 112 nonmanagerial workers at the DoubleTree (housekeepers, banquet servers, front desk agents, van drivers, and Scullers Jazz Club employees) filed a petition stating their desire to be able to decide without the influence of hotel management whether or not to join Unite Here, which already represented Harvard’s dining hall employees.

“We demand that the owner, Harvard University, and management of the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Boston, respect our signatures and agree to a fair process for us to decide whether to have union representation without management interference and intimidation,” the workers wrote in the petition, which they presented to DoubleTree’s general manager on 11 March 2013. Boston City Councilor at-large Felix G. Arroyo accompanied the delegation to present the petition and spoke with the workers afterwards. “We’re going to win because of your leadership,” Arroyo said before a crowd of DoubleTree employees. “Members are what make a union strong.” Representatives from SLAM and Unite Here dining hall workers at Harvard also accompanied the hotel employees. Afterwards, SLAM garnered approximately 600 petition signatures from Harvard students over the next two months.

Hotel management did not provide pro-union workers with a response to the issue of pursuing fair process unionization, and Harvard rejected the petition. On 8 May, Harvard Human Resources sent a letter to the union, Boston’s Local 26, expressing their refusal to establish fair process for DoubleTree employees. Labor Relations Director Bill Murphy, wrote that Harvard “respectfully declines Local 26’s request for the University to insert itself into this organizing campaign.”

A spokesperson from Hilton Worldwide wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson, Harvard’s daily student newspaper that, although Hilton supported workers’ right to unionize, the hotel management did not believe that a true majority of DoubleTree workers wanted to unionize.

Richard B. Freeman, Professor of Economics and Faculty Co-Director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, said that he believed even though Harvard did not directly employ the DoubleTree workers, the school was still responsible for stepping in and supporting the workers’ rights to a fair process.

In early November, SLAM published a report titled “Harvard’s Hotel compared to the Harvard Community Standard,” outlining the abuses DoubleTree Hotel workers suffered at the hands of hotel management. The report found that 96 percent of surveyed workers said that their jobs had degraded over the past six years, while 84 percent said they could not imagine continuing to work there for the next 10 years. One-hundred percent of surveyed room attendants stated they suffer from pain at home, which all of them agreed interferes with their other activities. Meanwhile, 78 percent did not view their workplace as a safe environment. Furthermore, the DoubleTree Hotel employees only earned 68 cents for every dollar that Harvard University Dining Services employees earned, and the latter had two or more years of work experience.

SLAM presented the report to Harvard President Drew Faust, distributed copies of the report in the University’s dining halls and obtained more petition signatures from students. SLAM also held a forum involving workers, students, and professors to discuss the importance of the campaign. Several faculty members expressed support for the campaign, including Marshall Ganz, a Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Kirsten Weld, Assistant Professor of History at the University.

On 21 November 2013, pro-union workers at the DoubleTree conducted a rally to urge the University to support their push for unionization. Approximately 60 protesters gathered in front of the Smith Campus Center to encourage the University to support the unionization efforts of employees. A combination of DoubleTree employees, Harvard employees and students, and representatives from local labor unions took part in the rally. At the rally, organizer Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, who helped write the report detailing work conditions at the DoubleTree, shared his findings that the work environment at the DoubleTree was far worse than on Harvard’s campus. “It’s like two different worlds, as if the Charles River divides the people who have the right to be treated well and the people who do not have that right, and I thought that was unfair,” Bayard said. Later on the 21st, participants marched from the Smith Campus Center to Massachusetts Hall, where recently re-elected Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung spoke in support of the workers’ desire for unionization.

In an article published on 19 December 2013 for Harvard Political Review, Delmy Lemus, a housekeeper at the DoubleTree Hotel, spoke up against the working conditions at the hotel, stating that her employers verbally abused her and that she was required to complete job assignments that were originally designed for four to five workers. Due to such a burdensome workload, Lemus told the newspaper that she suffered from several work-related injuries, including a broken nose and chronic back pain. She also made it known that DoubleTree management forced her to work up until her eighth month of pregnancy without aid. Her baby was born only a few days after she was allowed to take leave, after her employer accused her of lying about her due date, told her to work for at least one more week, and threatened that she would lose her job if she did not return within three months.

On 27 March 2014, hotel workers called for a boycott against the hotel in response to their anti-union actions. In addition to supporting a boycott of the Boston-Cambridge DoubleTree Hotel, Councillor E. Denise Simmons proposed urging the Boston City Council and others to take similar actions. On 28 May 2014 Dennis Benzan, Vice Mayor of Cambridge at the time, and Councillor Marc McGovern affirmed in a press release they would boycott commencement ceremonies at Harvard the next day. “I was invited to attend Harvard University’s commencement. As a result of what I’m seeing happen at the DoubleTree Hotel and the inaction of Harvard, I am hereby withdrawing any consideration I have to attending the commencement until they take this matter seriously and respect the dignity of the workers,” Benzan said.

Hotel workers, wearing the bright red T-shirts of Unite Here held a public comment session on 28 April 2014 and spoke to the public about their hard work and loyalty to the company, which they felt responded with low wages and poor working conditions.

In May 2014, the workers made national news when they appealed to Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) and feminist Sheryl Sandberg. Organizers asked Sandberg to meet with the hotel’s female workers. They started an online petition calling for her to become involved in their cause. Organizers also created leaflets depicting the cover of her book, Lean In, with faces of housekeepers replacing Sandberg’s, and a message that read, “Sheryl Sandberg, will you lean in with the women of Harvard’s hotel?” Sandberg delivered a Class Day address at Harvard on 22 May 2014, but sent word that she did not have time to host a “Lean In circle” with hotel employees. Undeterred, the workers handed out the leaflets during Sandberg’s speech in Harvard Yard.

On 20 November 2014, dozens of housekeeping employees held a one-day strike - the first hotel workers’ strike in Boston in more than 100 years. On the morning of 20 November, they rallied outside Harvard’s Science Center with the University’s unionized dining hall workers. The group of housekeeping workers and their supporters did not picket at the hotel, but union spokesperson Ten Eyck said many striking workers were scheduled to work that day and chose to demonstrate instead. On the evening of the 20th, about 700 students, clergy members, and hotel and food service workers from around the city showed up for a rally outside the Science Center to support the housekeepers’ unionization efforts. Supporters signed more than 3,000 cards of support and delivered to them to Harvard administration.

A spokesman for Hilton Worldwide said 19 of the 23 housekeeping staff who were scheduled to work that morning arrived for their shifts, and the spokesman said the hotel was operating normally. Ten Eyck said she doubted the figure provided by the hotel operator was accurate.

In March 2015 Unite Here called for a boycott of the hotel, and workers asked regular guests to stay elsewhere. In response, Hilton stated that most of the hotel’s workers do not want union representation. “This belief was reinforced by the recent protest rally at the hotel that was attended by only a very small minority of our team members and by a nearly complete absence of employee support for subsequent unsuccessful rallies that the union has tried to organize,” the company said in a statement. “We have reason to believe that a large majority actively oppose any boycott.”

DoubleTree management held meetings with employees, both in groups and one-on-one, to discourage them from unionizing, according to Local 26. They stated that management retaliated against one organizing committee member by putting fliers in the cafeteria and locker room calling him a “mole” and taking away extra shifts at Scullers Jazz Club. Hilton declined to respond to the allegations.

On 7 April 2015, the union summoned workers and students to their headquarters and Hilton agreed to a card check process for deciding to unionize. It never became clear whether President Faust conceded the workers’ point, or if another office at Harvard decided that the fight was not worth it. On 11 April, the workers announced that they officially voted to join Unite Here.

The workers at DoubleTree successfully negotiated their first contract, which brought their working conditions in line with those at the other hotels represented by Local 26. Workers also gained one unique provision: the explicit right to negotiate for lighter loads during pregnancy––the first provision of its kind in Boston hotels and a concession to women’s needs that the union hoped to replicate and expand when all the hotels came up for simultaneous negotiations in 2018. Despite management’s attempts to minimize the actions of the employees, workers joined UNITE HERE! Local 26, ending the more than two-year public fight.

Research Notes
Anon. 2015.“Workers at Harvard-Owned Hotel Win Union, End Boycott” UNITE HERE!, April 13. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Bayard, Gabriel. N.d. “Double Tree Double Standard: Comparing Harvard University’s

Workplace Standards On and Off Campus.” Source, n.d. Retrieved April 22, 2019.


Cahill, Christine. 2013a. “Employees of DoubleTree Suites Consider Joining Union” The Harvard Crimson, March 12. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Cahill, Christine. 2013b. “Protesters Support Unionization Efforts of DoubleTree Employees.” The Harvard Crimson, November 22. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Lee, Johanna. 2013. “Fighting for Fairness: Double Standards at the Harvard DoubleTree.” Harvard Political Review, December 19.Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Leonard, Sarah and Rojer, Rebecca. 2017. “Housekeepers Versus Harvard: Feminism for the Age of Trump.” The Nation, March 8. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Levy, Marc. 2014. “Officials ‘ashamed,’ boycotting Harvard graduation over hotel labor vote dispute (update).” Cambridge Day, April 29. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Rinaldi, Jessica. 2014. “Pro-Union Hotel Housekeepers Protest at Harvard.”The Boston Globe, November 20. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Wiggs, Jonathan. 2014. “Hilton Workers Trying to Unionize Appeal to Sheryl Sandberg for Help” The Boston Globe, May 24. Retrieved April 22, 2019. (

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Emma Walker 29/05/2019