California union urges MT board to avoid investing in owner of hotels involved in labor disputes

Posted at 4:37 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-24 16:27:00-04

HELENA — A hotel worker and union organizer from California appeared Wednesday before the Montana Board of Investments, urging it not to place state money with a firm that owns hotels they said are not addressing sexual-harassment claims.

They also said hotels in Irvine and Redwood City, owned by CBRE Global Investors, have unfairly resisted union organizing at the properties and is a bad risk for investors.

“We believe that companies like CBRE will not meaningfully move to mitigate sexual harassment unless they are held accountable by their investors, their shareholders and their employees,” said Laurel Fish, an organizer for Unite Here Local 2, which represents thousands of hotel and hospitality workers.

Montana pension funds have about $70 million invested in CBRE funds or stock — a small fraction of the $19 billion of state pension and other state funds managed by the Board of Investments.

Officials from Unite Here, which represents 300,000 workers worldwide, have appeared before the Montana Board of Investments several times in the past six months, asking the board not to invest more money with CBRE funds.

But Wednesday was the first time a hotel worker who said she’d been sexually harassed spoke to the board.

Vicky Juarez, a banquet-service worker at the CBRE-owned Marriott Hotel in Irvine, California, said she reported that a co-worker was harassing her, calling her and following her home, but that when she reported it to the hotel operator, they did nothing.

When the police became involved, the company responded by suspending her, she said.

“They made me feel like I was a criminal for reporting this sexual harassment,” Juarez told the board. “What I went through is going to stay with me for the rest of my life. Nobody knows what I went through.”

CBRE told MTN News that it does not operate the hotels and that it “cannot speak for Marriott’s policies and procedures regarding their employees or contractors.”

“Our relationship with Marriott is similar to the relationship an office-building owner would have with one of its tenants,” the company said in a statement. “While this is a matter for Marriott to address, CBRE has zero tolerance for harassment of any kind.”

Board of Investments staff have met with Unite Here representatives and employees at the Redwood City hotel, and have responded to questions raised by the union, the board said.

“The board takes its responsibility to conduct business to the highest ethical and professional standards very seriously,” it said in a statement.

Fish and Noel Rodriguez, an organizer for Unite Here Local 11 in Los Angeles, said they’re asking the Montana board not to invest more funds with CBRE until the company addresses the sexual-harassment claims and resolves labor disputes and contracts at the two hotels.

“You should know that those disputes are only escalating,” Fish told the board. “Just last week, workers picketed the Irvine-Marriott to protest unsafe working conditions, including lack of training and exposure to hypodermic needles.”

CBRE is soliciting Montana and other pension fund investors to put money into a new fund, known as Partners 9, Rodriguez said. The union has been visiting investment boards in several states, asking them not to participate in the new fund, he added.

The board confirmed that it is considering whether to invest in Partners 9, but said the final decision is made by the staff. It said it has directed Executive Director Dan Villa to follow up on any concerns.

The board also provided a letter to MTN News from CBRE Global Investors, written last week, advising Villa that Partners 9 would not be investing in hotels.