The Unitarian Universalist Association has withdrawn a block of 847 rooms it had booked at the Renaissance Providence Hotel, in response to an ongoing labor dispute between the hotel and its workers. The Rev. James Ishmael Ford, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Providence, spoke during a rally held outside the hotel for about an hour Wednesday night.
PROVIDENCE – In response to an ongoing labor dispute at the Renaissance Providence Hotel, the Boston-based Unitarian Universalist Association announced at a rally Wednesday night that they would boycott the hotel.
The Rev. James Ishmael Ford, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Providence, said the association is withdrawing a block of rooms it had planned to use for its members at an annual business meeting set for June 22-30. Jan Sneegas, the UUA’s director of general assembly and conference services, elaborated Thursday, putting the number of rooms at 847.
Ford made his remarks to a crowd of close to 50 supporters who rallied in front of the hotel for about an hour Wednesday night.
Citing the “inherent dignity” of people that his church upholds on principle, Ford said, “Sadly these otherwise good people have fallen short by refusing to engage in dialogue with the union … and refusing to provide a living wage. We will stand with you until justice is achieved.”
About 60 hotel employees have been working with Unite Here! Local Union 217 in hopes of having the union represent them, said Renaissance housekeeper Santa Brito, who cited low wages and poor working conditions.
“We’ve been fighting this hotel for nine months and they’re still trying to get over on us,” Brito said. “Do not visit this hotel until we win a fair contract with the employer. Please respect this boycott.”
Sneegas noted that the association would work with the hotel once the dispute is resolved, but said the association felt compelled to act.
“It’s clear that the UUA supports fair wages and equitable treatment of employees,” said Sneegas. “As a liberal religious people, we support the right of people to make a fair wage and be treated well. In the event there is a labor dispute at the property, we won’t subject our people to the effects of it and we stand in solidarity with fair labor practices.”
Reached Thursday, Richard MacAdams, chief legal counsel for the hotel owners, the Procaccianti Group, said the decision for workers to encourage a boycott did not make sense.
“We respect their right to make that decision, but the whole notion of a boycott is really misguided because it’s more likely to have an adverse effect on the employees,” he said.
Employees have brought their concerns to the National Labor Relations Board’s Region 1 office in Boston in the form of charges, which have not yet been authorized as a complaint, according to
Laura Sacks, a supervisory attorney, said the NLRB is waiting to hear back from the Procaccianti Group, as to whether it should be included as a party. The workers leveled the charges originally at RP Providence LLC, doing business as the Renaissance Providence Hotel.
Brito said Thursday the workers presented management with a signed petition on March 26.
“Our position all along is that there is a prescribed procedure under federal law by which the union can attempt to organize the hotel,” MacAdams said. “The union is trying to coerce us to forego rights that we have under the law, the National Labor Relations Act.”
One of the concessions the union has sought is to use a card-check system, which does not ensure privacy, instead of a secret ballot, in an election to decide whether or not the union should represent workers, MacAdams said.
Through a translator, Brito said hotel management is “trying to distract us from the working conditions.”
Several other speakers supported the boycott Wednesday, including workers from the nearby Omni Hotel, Pastor Santiago Rodriguez of the Gloria Dei Church, George Nee, president of the RI AFL-CIO, Shelby Maldonado, Central Falls City Councilwoman-elect and Guillaume de Ramel, 2014 candidate for Secretary of State.
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