Over a hundred people organized a picket line in the cold and slush outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Providence Tuesday evening to demand that The Procaccianti Group begin treating their employees properly, pay fair wages, and not interfere in the worker’s right to form a union.
Originally announced as a a “civil disobedience” action at the Renaissance Hotel by the State House, the focus of the picket was changed when 70% of the employees at the Hilton signed a petition, declaring their intent to unionize. The Procaccianti Group manages both hotels.
The Federal Government has cited the Renaissance Hotel twice: First, OSHA cited the Renaissance for workplace hazards and the Hotel settled, agreeing to pay $8,000 in fines. Second, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has issued an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the Renaissance and its parent, The Procaccianti Group. After an eight-month investigation, the NLRB Complaint named thirteen different hotel managers and alleged multiple acts of interfering with, restraining and coercing employee organizing rights at the Renaissance, including interrogation. A trial is set for March 31 in Boston.
At the Hilton Hotel, I watched as a group of hotel employees attempted to deliver the petition to the hotel management, only to be barred entry by members of the Providence Police Department. At least one police officer had zip tie handcuffs hanging off his belt, perhaps in anticipation of any civil disobedience that might crop up. However, the action was completely peaceful and well mannered, if loud and boisterous.
Several speakers took turns at the megaphone. A woman named Krystle talked about having been terminated because she advocated for her right to form a union. She also talked about the terrible treatment pregnant women receive at the hands of hotel management. In her written statement she said, “I was working in the restaurant then as a busser. Management would pressure me to work faster. They never offered to help me lift the heavy bins of dirty dishes. I went into pre-mature labor twice. I was treated like a machine, not a human being. It was outrageous.”
Speakers included Providence City Councilpersons Carmen Castillo and Luis Aponte. Aponte talked about the tax breaks the Hilton receives from the city. “You’ve done well in this city,” said Aponte, “Do good by your workers.” Castillo, in addition to being on the Providence City Council, is a worker in the hotel industry, at the Omni Hotel. She was at the protest to lend her support to the Hilton and Renaissance Hotel workers.
As much as the speeches by the politicians in support of the workers were welcome, it was the voice of the workers, speaking for themselves, that really invigorated the crowd. As the speakers spoke in English or Spanish, their words were translated, but even if you didn’t speak the language, you knew what they were saying. These are decent, hard working people who want to be treated properly, paid fairly, respected on the job, and live their lives with dignity and purpose. They are not simply replaceable cogs in The Procaccianti Group machine, they are human beings and they deserve, and on Tuesday night they demanded, to be treated as such.