By CONNECTICUT STUDENTS
— STAMFORD, Conn. — On Nov. 27, a delegation of students from across Connecticut arrived to tell management at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford that they stand in solidarity with the workers organizing a union. The union vote will take place Dec. 4 after three weeks of management’s anti-union intimidation campaign. We had representatives from University of Connecticut, Central Connecticut State University, Connecticut College, and more to demand an end to the intimidation campaign.
We walked through the shining face of capital that the hotel represents and marched right to the front desk. Once inside the lobby, our delegation could immediately see the balance of forces emerging in this struggle. Usually, the class war is hidden, but right now, at the Stamford Hilton, it boldly announces itself.
Most workers are wearing their modest but powerful white and red “Unite Here Local 217” buttons while management sports their own large and ghoulish purple “Vote NO” buttons with the company’s logo at the bottom. It is one thing to read about class struggle and to feel it during a normal day’s work, but at the Hilton, one can feel it breathing wherever one walks. The social classes are starkly aware that they are opposed.
At the front desk, we got straight to the point. We immediately asked the woman sporting a big “Vote NO” pin to speak with Robert Langevin, the General Manager. She seemed to immediately know something was up, but remained professional and placed the call. We waited as a worker went up to the second floor, where management peers down at the comings and goings and movements of the workers through a large and intimidating glass wall.
Finally, another manager came to tell us that Robert was on a big “revenue call” and that if we wanted to speak with him we would have to wait another half an hour. The timing all seemed fishy, but we acted in good faith and took a seat in the lobby.
Twenty or so minutes had passed, and we had the growing feeling that there was no real conference call. Increasingly impatient, we made our way back to the front desk and implored the first manager that “we had all driven over an hour to be here and couldn’t we just have five minutes with Robert?”
During the time we had been waiting in the lobby, management had the chance to go over strategy. Now when we asked about Robert, another manager, Jacinta Carter Vice President of Human Resources, was ready to hear us out. She led us to the empty dining room and three more managers, including Robert, appeared. We all sat down across from each other, eight college students being stared down by four of the higher-ups from management. I wondered if any of these people were from the pool of 18 union-busting managers that the management company, Atrium, had flown in to crack down on the drive.
Once everyone was gathered round the table, our delegation dove right into voicing our support for the workers. Evan, a student activist at UConn, jump started our conversation by telling management that he had attended the initial presentation of the workers’ intent to unionize. Robert could not have been happy being reminded of the time he was caught totally unawares by a wave of working-class determination.
All four of the managers were immediately made aware that we know first-hand the power and politics of the Hilton. Evan spoke to the lack of respect shown by management, the grueling work, the precarious hours, and the starvation wages offered at the hotel, conditions which were hammered into all of our minds by talking to workers and seeing the videos and articles coming out of this struggle.
We all were firm in not allowing management to speak until we had exhausted our list of demands, grievances, and solidarity. Everyone pointed out that the workers deserve a union, that management must immediately stop their intimidation meetings, and that workers are sorely underpaid and overworked.
Management—and remember, this is four people including the General Manager—stayed silent while we talked. Finally, we allowed them to respond, and what they had to say was downright laughable. In response to our question “is $11 a livable wage?” we were told “if you ask 100 people you will get 100 different answers.” This in a city and county with one of the highest cost-of-living indexes in the world.
In response to our demand that workers stop being made to clean 40 rooms a day we were told, “we abide by industry standards.” When pressed on “who sets industry standards?” Robert Langevin answered “industry.” We quickly retorted “no, the bosses!”
The truth of their position was put into the blinding light of reality when we said, “Regardless of the number of rooms, having to work so hard that every day you come back from work in excruciating pain is too much.” To this stubborn fact, we were told that management feels aches and pains too, and that is just a part of the job.
The cabal of bosses all but admitted that they have been intimidating workers, going so far as to try to justify the practice. They said, “we need to educate the workers” on what it means (for management) that they unionize. According to them, sometimes this just needs to take place in a one-on-one setting and sometimes you just need multiple managers there to “translate.” The managers, the workers, and students, all know that this is a time-worn tactic of intimidation, of the bosses flexing their muscles and trying to show their power.
We had been in this “meeting” for around 20 minutes when a group of workers with gleaming white pins began marching towards us. They flanked the management from behind and broke into their ranks to offer us sincere gratitude for coming to support them. We thanked them back for being so courageous and strong and broke out into a round of applause.
Joining together with the workers was a truly triumphant moment. They came out after five minutes or so of management huffing and hawing, circling around outright saying that they do not think people deserve to be paid enough to live.
Langevin, Jacinta, and their cronies were obviously deeply unsettled by the open defiance that the workers, all on the clock, showed in barging into our meeting. We decided to leave them shaken up, voiced one last time our unwavering support for the union, and made our way to the door, thrilled to bear witness to the incoherence and cowardice of the bosses. After interacting with management and hearing their lies the entire student delegation is convinced that the Hilton workers deserve a union now.