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Over the past three years, University representatives and I have met several times with student leaders from the Penn chapter of the Student Labor Action Project. A joint initiative of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, SLAP is working to persuade investors in HEI — a privately held hotel management company specializing in under-managed American urban business hotels and resort properties — to divest from the company in protest of what SLAP describes as unlawful anti-organizing practices and unfair working conditions for employees at HEI properties. Subsequently, Penn’s SLAP chapter, as well as other chapters nationally, have requested that universities pledge publicly not to reinvest in HEI-sponsored funds.

In 2004, Penn, along with other endowments and institutional investors, participated as a limited partner in HEI’s first fund. Penn has not participated in two subsequent funds. Due to confidentiality restrictions, as a general rule, the University does not comment on its private investments. However, in 2008 — four years after Penn’s participation — its investment, as one of several institutional endowment investors, was publicly disclosed by a representative of HEI during a company presentation. Shortly thereafter, the Penn chapter of SLAP, as well as groups similarly organized on other campuses, raised concerns about HEI’s treatment of its labor force and argued that it was denying workers the right to organize a union.

We have been monitoring a continuing labor dispute between the management of HEI and the national labor union UNITE HERE, which is seeking to organize employees of HEI properties. HEI management has repeatedly assured us that it fully supports the rights of employees to organize, noting that it operates unionized properties.

The dispute at hand centers on the methods of union recognition. The company supports an anonymous, secret ballot election for the employees to select a union, consistent with current law. SLAP and UNITE HERE, on the other hand, advocate for an alternative process in which employees publicly check a box on a card (known as “card check”) in the presence of union leaders. This dispute over the pathway for recognition is not a University issue, and, as a limited partner, we have no legal authority over this issue. We recognize the rights of workers to organize under the current laws governed by the National Labor Relations Board, but we do not intervene in disputes between a company’s management and its employees.

To clarify Penn’s position: the University has no plans to make future investments in HEI-sponsored funds. Any future consideration of an investment would take into account all relevant circumstances at that time.

Craig Carnaroli is Penn’s executive vice president. His email address is

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