Penn halts future investment in hotel group

Decision made in response to the Student Labor Action Project’s letter signed by 29 campus groups

· March 28, 2011, 2:53 am   ·  Updated March 28, 2011, 12:00 am

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Penn declared on Friday that it has no plans to make further investments in funds sponsored by HEI Hotels and Resorts — a company which has been accused of unjust labor practices.

The Office of the Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli released a public statement with the decision in response to a Feb. 25 letter from the Student Labor Action Project, which asked that Penn declare its intention to not reinvest its funds in HEI, founded by 1994 Wharton Masters in Business Administration graduate Gary Mendell and his brother, Steve.

However, this announcement from Penn “wasn’t exactly the statement we were hoping for,” College sophomore and SLAP coordinator Meghna Chandra said. While SLAP asked for a statement of non-reinvestment, the University wrote that “future consideration of an investment would take into account all relevant circumstances at that time.”

Although SLAP’s letter — signed by students, faculty and 29 campus groups — did not specifically ask for Penn to not consider reinvesting in HEI, Chandra said SLAP wants to be sure that no such investments are made until HEI “meets certain conditions of allowing workers to unionize and not exploiting them.”

As an institution, though, “Penn is working within constraints,” Chandra added, “and our job is to push them within those constraints to do the most they can for worker’s rights.”

While the statement acknowledged HEI’s alleged injustices that SLAP outlined in its letter — such as HEI’s refusal to recognize workers’ right to unionize — Penn does not “intervene in disputes between a company’s management and its employees,” according to the statement.

However, “given the history of SLAP’s campaign and the various setbacks we’ve experienced, this is definitely a step forward,” College senior and SLAP coordinator Nantina Vgontzas said.

While Penn first invested in HEI as a limited partner in 2004, its involvement with the company was not made public until 2008.

Starting in 2008, SLAP began pushing the University to divest — or recall its investments — from HEI. After its request was not met by the University, however, SLAP scaled back its demands and asked for a statement of non-reinvestment.

While Vgontzas was hesitant to call it a “complete victory,” she was pleased that SLAP and the University were able to reach an agreement.

“We really want to frame this as a victory,” Chandra added.

SLAP has yet to decide if it will continue to push the University toward a more concrete statement of non-reinvestment, but in the meantime, “we’re still going to make sure students have a voice,” Vgontzas said.

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