More than 400 people protested the grand opening ceremony for the Trump International Hotel in on Pennsylvania Avenue to demonstrate against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s stances on issues ranging from labor rights to concerns about his treatment of women last Wednesday.
Protesters remained outside the building while the opening ceremony occurred indoors. According to The Washington Post, Trump originally planned to hold a ribbon-cutting outside, going so far as to apply for a permit to use the sidewalk. The Tuesday before the event, Trump Old Post Office LLC withdrew their request for a permit.
The $212 million hotel made its official debut after the Trump organization won a 60-year lease from the federal government in 2012 to transform the Old Post Office Pavilion building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW into a 263-room hotel. Construction began in 2014.
The protest was officially organized by the group UNITE HERE, a labor union whose work focuses primarily on the hotel, food service, laundry and casino gaming industries. UNITE HERE has also organized a nationwide boycott of Trump products, an effort supported by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the largest federation of unions in the United States, which represents more than 12 million workers across the country.
UNITE HERE called specifically for Trump and his business partners at Trump Hotel Las Vegas to recognize the unionization efforts of the workers there and begin negotiations for an official contract.
Last March, the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal entity that oversees labor disputes, approved the union vote of around 500 Trump Hotel Las Vegas employees. However, since then the Trump Organization has unsuccessfully appealed the decision and refused to begin bargaining the contract for the union.
UNITE HERE represents Aramark workers at Georgetown, some of whom attended the protest last Wednesday.
Joshua Armstead, who works at O’Donovan Hall and attended the protests as a member of the local chapter of UNITE HERE, said the protests brought awareness to the plight of workers at Trump’s hotel in Las Vegas.
“I decided to attend because my brothers and sisters in Las Vegas have been looking to negotiate in good faith and make the most American choice possible in fighting for their rights, and Donald Trump has been running from that,” Armstead said.
UNITE HERE Organizing Director Sarah Jacobson said the protest aimed to spotlight the incongruity
between Trump’s attempts to block unions and his claims to champion the working class.
“By setting up a picket line in the grand opening of this hotel, we are asking people not to disrespect this ethical call for solidarity made by the workers in Las Vegas,” Jacobson said.
Trump Hotel D.C. Director of Sales and Marketing Patricia Tang dismissed the notion that protesters would have an adverse impact on the hotel’s business, which currently charges upward of $900 per night.
“Protests happen all over America. As long as it happens peacefully, it’s fine,” Tang said in an interview with The Hoya. “There’s only a small portion of the population that would ever be able to afford the hotel. But the people who can afford us, they’re coming.”
Georgetown Solidarity Committee Member Esmeralda Huerta (SFS ’17), who did not attend the protest but knew people who did, said she appreciated that people came together to protest the hotel’s opening.
“During actions like these, we’re able to come together because these issues impact all of us. We are all complicit and affected by systems of privilege, oppression, and power regardless of whether we can afford to book a room at the Trump hotel or not,” Huerta wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It is our responsibility to hold giants accountable to the realities that they create in people’s lives.”
With less than two weeks until the election, the ribbon-cutting ceremony and accompanying press conference inside the hotel ballroom featured the nominee touting the opening of the hotel as a metaphor for his platform’s subversion of a broken political system.
“We turned a property that had been neglected for decades and which was losing huge sums of money for the federal government into a major producer and job creator,” Trump said. “This is what I want to do for our country and what we’re working so hard to do. Right now, just about everything our government touches is broken or they break it. It’s always over budget and behind schedule, and simply nothing works.”
Huerta said she recognized similarities between the labor disputes occurring at Georgetown and the protests at the new Trump hotel.
“While Georgetown and Trump might be different employers, the fact that both companies have the same history of disenfranchising workers speaks volumes,” Huerta wrote.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who participated in the hotel’s ceremonial groundbreaking in October 2014, was absent from the ribbon-cutting, saying she did not want to participate in a political campaign event.
“I decided it was a political event more than anything, and I’m not going to be involved in a political event,” Bowser said in an Oct. 26 interview with D.C.’s Channel 7 news.
Jacobson added that UNITE HERE is calling for a boycott of all Trump-related products until the candidate accepts the National Labor Relations Board’s decision to allow the unionization of workers at the Las Vegas hotel.
“Our union is asking people not to sleep, not to eat, not to spend money at this or any other Trump-owned property until he respects the decision and comes to the table and bargains with the workers in Las Vegas in a contract that addresses the concerns that caused them to create the union,” Jacobson said.
Georgetown University College Republicans Chair Megan Pohl (COL ’17) said she was not surprised at the amount of attention the hotel garnered in recent months.
“Given the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s treatment of workers and contractors on several of his past projects, it is not surprising that the hotel’s opening attracted protesters,” Pohl wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown University College Republicans member Mike Parmiter (MSB ’18) said he thought American workers should be celebrating rather than protesting the hotel opening.
“Particularly for the unions, they should be happy he is opening up a hotel as he is for the workers and for your average American trying to live paycheck to paycheck,” Parmiter said. “I think that the unions should be on the other side of the issue and happy he’s opening up a hotel.”
Jacobson said she found it symbolic that the grand opening of the hotel saw nearly all the hotel’s doors blocked by metal barricades, secret service agents and protesters.
“I watched a little bit of the news story from Trump himself inside the hotel bragging about the opening of his business, even though functionally, that hotel was closed,” Jacobson said. “People were not moving in throughout the hotel, people were not celebrating the opening of the hotel, and that really reflects what I see as the future of that hotel. Trump’s actions are driving people’s business away from the places where he makes money.”