Thursday, October 28, 2004

UNITE HERE Statement on AAA Efforts

I am Neal Kwatra, a coordinator in the Strategic Affairs Department with UNITE HERE, the Union that represents the locked out workers in San Francisco.

Leaders and members of the AAA have asked me to address some of the issues your organization has been debating over the last week.

We sincerely appreciate the AAA for not crossing the picket line and moving the convention out of San Francisco, however, we would have preferred a different outcome than the contract swap with Hilton in Atlanta.

Thank you for all your hard work on this issue, our members in San Francisco and throughout the country truly appreciate your support and solidarity. The best way to support our locked out members in this struggle and long-term, is to work with us and other organizations on a long-term program to level the playing field between multinational hotel corporations and their workers.

The link below will give you an opportunity to better understand the issues our members are so courageously fighting for in San Francisco.

http://www.unitehere2.org/issues.html

I think it is important to provide you with some of the history of our efforts to arrive at a solution that would work for the AAA, its members and for the thousands of locked out hotel workers on the streets in San Francisco, who are without livelihood for the duration of the lockout.

Our Union initially reached out to the AAA on August 30. We offered to work with your organization on alternative locations that would be of minimal disruption (San Jose). Because we have experience working with other groups, in the context of labor disputes, we offered to work with your staff on the liability issues as well. We offered to work in partnership to come up with a mutually beneficial situation for the AAA and our members in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we were never able to advance the conversation with your staff.

The first time anyone in the leadership or staff of the AAA reached out to our Union to discuss this situation was early last week when I received a call from President-elect Alan Goodman. He was very clear that his goal was to work with UNITE HERE in a constructive fashion to support our locked out members in SF, while simultaneously finding a viable solution for the AAA.

Despite good-faith efforts on his part to explore mutually beneficial options like San Jose, another school of thought prevailed. Alan Goodman has been a helpful partner in our collective efforts to support the locked out workers in SF and I look forward to working with him and others within the AAA as the struggle for hotel worker justice continues.

The AAA has an enormous amount of power in its relationships with corporations like Hilton. For the Hiltons and Marriotts of the world, what matters most is maintaining the AAA as a long-term client; they want your business year-after-year. They are too smart and savvy to risk severing a relationship with a key customer like the AAA over a situation like the one in San Francisco. In the big picture, $1.2 million is not what is important to them; a very long and very profitable relationship with the AAA and other academic organizations is more important to them in the long run than $1.2 million in the short term. Additionally, in a competitive marketplace they cannot afford a reputation as a company that sues its customers.

For an organization whose scholarship and research often focuses on power relationships, your organization made a decision, in my opinion, that did not take into account the power-you have as an organization-in your relationship with Hilton.

Having said that, we are especially grateful to the AAA members, leaders and activists who galvanized support among the membership and who lead the effort to convince the AAA's leadership that crossing a picket line in SF was completely antithetical to everything your organization stands for.

Many people have asked what the AAA can do moving forward to support the hotel workers struggle in SF and around the country. Given your unique relationship with the Hilton Corporation, concrete steps the AAA can take that would have a dramatic impact on the struggle of hotel workers in this country include:

· ensuring that your staff has strong "force majeure" language in your hotel contracts, to address labor disputes. You should never have to decide between the risk of litigation and crossing boycott or picket lines. We can work with the AAA on suggested ?force majeure? contract language.

· a wholesale reexamination of your relationship with Hilton Hotels. In order for there to be some lasting impact of your move out of San Francisco, Hilton needs to understand that a swap to Atlanta is not where the issue ends. It is my understanding that you are scheduled to be back at the San Francisco Hilton in 2006 and 2008, but you are not contractually obligated beyond that. We have very concrete ideas about what you can do with Hilton to have a broader impact on the current and long term struggle for justice for workers in the hotel industry and we would welcome the opportunity to work with all of you on those ideas.

We are working with many other academic organizations (Sociologists, Geographers, American Studies and others) and progressive groups (women's, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious) on a coordinated program to deal with the hotel industry. Your organization and others like it represent hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity for these hotel corporations. We need to work together as a cohesive, progressive movement to affect real change in the relationship between these corporations and workers in the hotel industry.

Si Se Puede!

FYI- for those attending the meeting in Atlanta, the Hyatt Regency is currently our only union-hotel in Atlanta.

Hyatt Regency Atlanta
265 Peachtree Street North East
Atlanta, GA 30303
Phone: (404) 577-1234

For those of you who want to make a contribution to our locked out members in San Francisco, here is the information:

Local 2 Solidarity Fund
UNITE HERE! Local 2
209 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

In Solidarity,
Neal Kwatra
Strategic Affairs Department
UNITE HERE

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