Monday, March 21, 2011

Notre Dame Silences Workers


Three HEI workers from two different hotels in California were visiting Notre Dame Wednesday and Thursday, March 9-10. For the sixth time, workers were refused a meeting with Notre Dame’s administration, which has never met with HEI workers, and complacently relies solely on Scott Malpass for accurate information about HEI’s working conditions. Chief of Staff Francis Shavers, responding for President Jenkins, Chief Investment Officer Scott Malpass and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said, “we have nothing additional to share beyond the information and explanations Scott Malpass has provided in the past through multiple discussions.” There is no mention of what the workers themselves are saying. Six times Notre Dame was invited to hear personal stories about work at an HEI hotel, and six times Notre Dame has silenced the workers by refusing to meet with them.

On Thursday, March 10, Notre Dame held its bi-annual town hall meeting, which was led by Affleck-Graves. He discussed Notre Dame’s financial situation as well as all of the reasons why ND is an outstanding place with Catholic values and a mission in which we can believe. “This is our time to be great,” he said. The presentation was followed by an open question and answer session. After being refused a meeting, the three workers chose to publicly ask Affleck-Graves about Notre Dame’s investment.

The HEI workers walked up to the microphone, led by a hotel housekeeper. She introduced herself and said, “I work for HEI..." Immediately, John Affleck-Graves cut her off, speaking over her, declaring that she could not ask her question, she's not a Notre Dame employee, she had to stop talking, the HEI workers had to leave, the meeting was not a space for them to speak, etc… The worker persisted with her question while Affleck-Graves continued to speak over her increasingly more agitated and raising his voice. When the HEI worker refused to be silent, her microphone was cut so that the crowd could no longer hear what she was saying. After she finished, the three workers returned to their seats. A member of security came over and asked them to leave, which they did peacefully. Affleck-Graves refused to answer Flores’s question.

Ironically, Affleck-Grave's speech right before this incident was almost entirely about Notre Dame making the world a better place, listening to suggestions, and continuing to improve. But apparently at our oligarchic institution, only certain people deserve to be heard. Notre Dame makes money off of each low-wage hour of work completed by HEI workers; they deserve a voice at our university. Yet, just like at their hotels, the workers were silenced on Notre Dame’s campus. One of the HEI workers present noted, “I thought only my managers were like this, but now I see that they’re like that everywhere.”

Scott Malpass maintains that HEI is a “good” investment, meeting Notre Dame’s ethical standards. If this is true, what was John Affleck-Graves so afraid to hear? Why did he silence Ana Flores? Was he scared about listening to how “good” her job is? How “good” her pay and benefits are? How “good” her workload is? How “good” her treatment is? How “good” it feels to be ignored? Notre Dame, in silencing the voice of the worker, has disowned many of the basic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching and is complicit in the exploitation and mistreatment of human lives.

For more information about this issue, visit http://www.heiworkersrising.org/
Props to my sister, Sarah Furman, who helped in editing this article.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

oh notre dame... just when i was beginning to think the place wasn't all that bad they pull this crap

Anonymous said...

What wasn't stated in the article was that Mr. Affect-Graves said that he was in agreement with what Ms. Furman stated during her prepared statement to those present. He simply said that this was not the place to discuss the issues. And judging by the invited audience's overwelming support, Ms. Furman should have respectfully left. As for the HEI workers, I am sure that I and many in attendance wished them well in sorting out their concerns about their personal employement. But again, this forum was not the place and Mr. Afflect-Graves was not being rude, just politely letting the un-invited visitors know that we would not listen to their words at this time.

Gordon Stanton said...

I don't know the specifics regarding Mr. Affleck-Graves, but it seems to me that the HEI workers tried all of the more traditional and appropriate venues of communication and were denied and silenced at every turn. The administration has no one to blame but themselves if the workers resorted to using this forum to express themselves. and if the university truly holds itself to a high moral standard that it claims, they can't ignore such a huge issue just because it's not expressed in the proper venue.

Anonymous said...

A typical Progressive response. Blame someone else, but take no responsibility for your actions. Sounds like "the ends justify the means" play.
The facts are that Notre Dame has found no reason to not invest in HEI and has no obligation to listen to these people in this forum or any other for that matter. You trying to pressure institutions to accept your agenda is wrong. Look at the lawlessness that took place in Madison. What a pathetic joke.
The University of Notre Dame is a fine institution that does alot of good for many people. Progressivism is bad.

Liz Furman said...

Gordon, I couldn't have said it better myself. The reason the HEI workers went to the town hall meeting is because they've been ignored for years while ND pays for their abuse. The workers have legitimate claims. Brown University, after investigating HEI and listening to workers, chose to to reinvest in HEI until they reform their labor practices (read http://www.heiworkersrising.org/?p=659).
If there is no problem with HEI, as ND claims, the Affleck-Graves should have no problem answering the workers' question about ND's investment. The fact is that, when looking into the eyes of the exploited, he could not tell them their jobs are "good." He could not say they are treated with dignity and respect when the disrespected were standing in front of him. He could not lie to the workers, the least of these, who experience the brutal truth daily at their hotels. So he naturally became defensive to protect his image, silencing the workers and telling them to leave.
I am proud of the workers for standing up for their rights. "It is right to struggle against an unjust economic system that does not uphold the priority of the human being over capital" JPII, Centesimus Annus.

Liz Furman said...

Also, (sorry to comment again), but I want to clarify what a previous commenter wrote about the audiences overwhelming support for Affleck-Graves against the workers at the meeting. Afterward, I found that most of the audience did not actually know what the question was as the mic was cut off and Affleck-Graves spoke over the workers the entire time. When I spoke to many ND workers in attendance after the meeting and explained to them why the HEI workers were there, not a single one was upset about their presence even though they're not ND employees. In fact, ND workers overwhelmingly supported the HEI workers in their struggle.
Also, to the comment above that says that Affleck-Graves agreed with my question but told me that he would not address the issue. First, my question was unrelated to HEI. It was about ND's use and abuse of temporary and on call workers on campus, a practice that allows ND to pay workers less and provide no benefits by claiming that the workers are only needed for a short period of time. I asked why, then, are some of them here for months and years while ND saves money by keeping them labeled as "temporary" or "on-call" instead of full time. He answered my question by saying that ND doesn't do that, which is untrue, just go ask the workers if you want to know the truth. I was never asked to leave, and when the HEI workers were asked to leave after their question, they did so peacefully.

Anonymous said...

HEI workers from California, eh? Hope that they enjoyed the peanuts on their flight here and the continental breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn. That's union money well spent! Especially for a meeting that these people weren’t even invited to attend! If these employees had any integrity or work ethic, they'd be advancing their way up the ladder at one of the fastest growing hotel operators in the US, not crashing meeting in South Bend.
Why do HEI employees at certain hotels vote continually say "no" to union representation in secret ballot elections which are stringently overseen by the federal government? Is it because their secret ballot election is being rigged by “the man”, because of “secret ballot intimidation”? Are the majority of workers too dumb to know about unions, and those angels who can inform them are unfairly prevented from evangelizing the good word? Here’s another possibility: maybe because these workers are smarter than certain ND students think that they are. Maybe they know what’s better for them than you do! They know that at their best unions create an impermeable barrier between management and lower level employees, and at their worst they cause entire companies to fail and tons of jobs to be lost (remember GM?!?). The only thing that these workers are intimidated by is the prospect of being forced to pay dues to union bosses, who live like “fat cats” (Obama term for investment bankers) without making any contribution to productive society.
Tonight hundreds of millions of people around the world will go to bed malnourished. Children here in America will struggle to learn within an inadequate education system, yearning for the help of a generous hand who can tutor them. However, a certain group of altruistic, well intended people will allocate their time towards fighting a legitimate company and a system of economic efficiency. That’s the true tragedy here.