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‘Like a slap in the face’: Hospitality workers rally against selling Hynes Convention Center

Protesters say that selling the landmark would ruin the Back Bay's economy. According to the governor's office, a sale would create more jobs and generate more business.

Hospitality workers rallied outside Hynes Convention Center Wednesday to protest Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to sell the convention center. UNITE HERE Local 26

Wearing red shirts and carrying signs, members of UNITE HERE Local 26 braved the rain Wednesday to march from Copley Square to the Hynes Convention Center to protest Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to sell the landmark.

Protesters argued that the potential loss of a large meeting space in the Back Bay, which they say has fueled the local hospitality economy for decades, would devastate workers in the community.

“Selling the Hynes would eliminate all kinds of jobs in the Back Bay, and would have the most devastating impact on communities who have been hardest-hit by the pandemic — women workers and black and brown workers,” Local 26 President Carlos Aramayo said in a news release.

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Neither Baker nor Boston Mayor Michelle Wu were immediately available for comment on the protest.

Baker said previously his administration would collaborate with the neighborhood, the Legislature, and the city of Boston, in finding the best ways to support the neighborhood through the process and on the future plans for the site.

The union said in a news release that there were hundreds of people at the protest, including workers from other labor unions, workers from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC), Back Bay community members, and workers from nearby hotels, including the Sheraton Boston, Westin Copley Place, Hilton Back Bay, and Fairmont Copley Plaza. 

Local 26 said many protesters held signs that had slogans such as “Destroying Good Jobs Dishonors Boston’s History” and “#SavetheHynes.” At the Hynes, the protesters chanted “Save the Hynes, save our Boston.”

Hynes Convention Center employee Darryl Singletary, Sheraton Boston worker Toula Savvidis, and Boston City Council President Ed Flynn gave speeches at the rally. 

Protesters argued that the hospitality industry is bouncing back from pandemic restrictions. They say that selling the convention center as this is happening is not only hurtful to businesses starting to recover, but is also a short-sighted decision.

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Savvidis has worked as a bartender at the Sheraton Boston for 22 years. She said in a news release that hotels in Boston have seen a lot more business return in 2022.

“At the Sheraton, which is literally connected to the Hynes, we were starting to feel hopeful about seeing everyone return to work. Selling the Hynes is like a slap in the face, especially at a time when the hotel industry is getting stronger,” she said.

While Baker has argued that the convention center sits unused much of the time, according to State House News Service, in May alone, five conventions were held there.

Despite this, according to the governor’s office, occupancy levels at the Hynes fluctuated around 60% before the pandemic, and they have yet to return to that level of use.

Additionally, the governor’s office said in a statement to Boston.com, a recent economic impact analysis projected that a redevelopment of the property could result in 7,200 permanent jobs, instead of the 1,700 current permanent jobs, plus over 5,000 construction jobs; $84 million in taxes, instead of the $14 million in taxes that are currently generated; and that hotels would experience 36% more bookings.

All of those figures are based on economic information from before the pandemic, the governor’s office said.

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The governor’s office also highlighted that the legislation that proposes to sell the Hynes includes a provision that allocates 20% of the money from the sale to be used to “mitigate the impacts of the sale … and the subsequent redevelopment on the Back Bay neighborhood and surrounding areas in the city of Boston, including but not limited to the impacts on residents, businesses and infrastructure.”

Because Hynes employees are employees of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which runs both the Hynes and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, they would not lose their jobs, but instead, would be transferred to the BCEC.

It’s unclear whether the governor’s arguments will be enough to convince the Back Bay community and the businesses that rely on the Hynes that the sale of the property would benefit, or at least not hurt, them.

Donnell Beverly, who has worked as a lead barback at the Hynes for 16 years, said in the news release that his job at the Hynes gave him a solid income, great benefits, and job security. He said he believes selling the convention center would cause massive job losses.

“Think of all the people who will be displaced — not just from the Hynes, but from all the hotels, restaurants, and stores in the Back Bay. They all depend on the Hynes to survive,” he said.

“Those of us who work in hospitality have suffered a lot through this pandemic. Now that the economy is recovering, now that we are working again, now that conventions are coming back, we should not make any rash decisions.”

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A spokesperson for the city of Boston said in a statement to Boston.com that the people of Boston and the Back Bay community should decide the future of the Hynes Convention Center.

“That space should enhance the public realm to serve the needs of the neighborhood and all city residents to advance the goals of expanding economic opportunity and creating a more affordable, equitable, and resilient city,” the spokesperson said.

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