In 2011, the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel gained some unwanted notoriety when Joey DeFrancesco quit his service job with the help of his bandmates in the What Cheer? Brigade. A video of Joey’s raucous exit has 4.3 million views on YouTube. “They were stealing our tip money, paying us poverty wages, making us work double or triple shifts,” DeFrancesco told The Nation. “When I quit, I didn’t want to go quietly.”
On December 4, the workers declared a boycott. The Unitarian Universalist Association, which had intended to hold its annual business meeting at the Renaissance, canceled 847 reservations. Local politicians voiced their support. On March 19, thanks to the combined efforts of students and hotel workers, the Brown University Community Council (BUCC) voted to discourage the Brown community from patronizing the Renaissance.
Since the fall, members of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance had been marching with Renaissance workers on the picket lines. When the boycott started, students invited the hotel workers to attend a BUCC meeting and share their stories with administrators. “We have certain leverage at Brown,” says Mariela Martinez, a Brown senior and SLA member, “We have to use it.”
When the university president cut off hotel worker Santa Brito in the midst of her testimony, the SLA went outside official channels, handing out hundreds of leaflets at Brown’s extravagant 250th anniversary events. At the next BUCC meeting, SLA members packed the room. The council voted almost unanimously to support the resolution, which “encourages the Brown community to take all appropriate measures to avoid holding any events at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence during the current labor dispute.”
Martinez, who comes from a working-class family in South-Central Los Angeles, says of the Renaissance workers, “They are facing real intimidation on a daily basis…. We’re just going to class and going to meetings.” Says hotel worker Marino Cruz, “They are fighters, just like us.”