Monday, October 25, 2004

Why SF Hilton/MEG Hotels, and not AAA leadership are our primary target

As my letter to the board makes clear, we need to continue to work together to reform the AAA. However, as the following makes clear, our primary target has to be the SF Hilton and the MEG Hotels that continue to lock-out experienced workers.

What follows is an email sent from President-Elect Alan Goodman to SCA President Pauline Turner Strong, in response to Polly's request for a report on Alan's conversations with UNITE HERE activists.

Alan included on the "cc" list Neil Kwatra of UNITE HERE, so Neil has seen this account of these conversations.

Dear Pauline,

I’m glad you asked. As you suggest, what others have reported directly or indirectly from UNITE/HERE is inconsistent with what I have been told. I agree with Dan that others need to do what I am doing, so that we can get a coherent take on UNITE/HERE’s position on our move to Atlanta. I apologize in advance for the haste in writing this letter. I am catching a plane this morning o William and Mary and Duke, where I will be all week. If any details are unclear, please ask and I will respond from there.

Last Wednesday (October 20), I called Francis Engler, someone I know who is an organizer, along with his brother, for UNITE/HERE in LA. I did so as an individual. Nobody asked me. I wanted to get his sense of what was possible from the perspective of his union. When I remembered that Francis was an organizer, I called him. Francis reinforced my understanding that this was an important strike (with national implications). He was the first to tell me that the SF pickets are fierce. He also promised to get me the name of the person who would be best to call, Neal Kwatra, a coordinator in DC (Neil is CCed on this email).

I talked to Neil the next morning, just before the AAA executive board teleconference, and since then we have talked about 4-5 times. During the first conversation, I asked Neil what he thought from the union’s perspective about a move to another Hilton (I may have even said Atlanta). He said, and I agreed, that it would not be as complete a victory as moving to San Jose, but nonetheless, it would be a big victory for the union and a major move in support of the union. Neil was respectful and lovely in that he expressed that Unite/Here would help with our move to San Jose, if we did that. He expressed that San Jose might be a better move for AAA. He thinks we have lots of clout with Hilton and is less concerned than our lawyer with a big lawsuit. The point is simply that his preference for San Jose was seemingly based more on his thinking it would be better for AAA. From his union perspective, I think it is safe to say he was extremely pleased, period.

Neil called me at home on Thursday night, after the board had voted. He somehow already knew of our actions, in some detail, but he did not know all the details. He asked me if I would confirm that we were not going to meet in SF (and cross the picket lines) because UNITE/HERE was meeting later that evening in SF and this would be just fantastic news for them. He seemed to know that we were going to a city other than San Jose. I did my best to keep the exec board decision in confidence. However, I did not deny the rumor.

Neil and I talked again on Friday and Saturday (October 22, 23). Neil had not known the detail that our contract specifies that we are to go back to San Francisco in 2006. He expressed concern that the contract was a bad move for AAA because it potentially puts us back in the same position two years from now. I again expressed that it was the executive board’s primary goal to move the meetings to another location in support of the union. I again asked him to state his approval of the move and again he expressed appreciation. I brought up the irony of going to a nonunion hotel. This did not seem to concern him. He did say that Hilton Atlanta is a “corporate” Hilton versus the one in San Jose (I’m still not clear on the difference). He told me that our meetings canceling would be a big deal! In the end, he said that of course the AAA canceling and moving to Atlanta is a significant victory for Unite/Here.

I expressed my thanks to Neil and as I have told others, I told him that the one bright spot of our canceling and moving is that I had gotten to know more about his union and what they are fighting for. We talked about continuing our relationship and other things that AAA could do to show support. One idea is for the membership to contribute to a large newspaper add in support of the union. As for 2006, I told him that as incoming president, I hoped we will work together long before the actual meeting date to make sure that something like what happens this year does not happen again and that it actually could be a positive experience.



PS my father worked for 40+ years as a member of the National Union of Pipefitters and I was able to go to college, in part, because of a scholarship from his union.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the past several days, I have read many sarcastic comments on the AAA Executive Board, questioning their leadership and decision making process. Some mentioned that they are surprised at the AAA's 'corporate' culture. I agree mostly with them.
HOWEVER, in this difficult situation, I am also disappointed at some immature and arrogant members who express only their complaints reagarding their itinery. The decision to hold the meetings at Hilton was made long time ago, not particularly by the current leaders. Why didn't any member ask questions about the location and hotels before? Why do they act like they care so much about 'labor' now all of a sudden while we always had meetings at Hilton- the anti-union hotel.
I suggest that we do have the AAA meetings at Atlanta together, bringing the issues, instead of acting like children, by saying, "I won't go to Atlanta! I am going to have my own section meeting at SJ or Oakland!" That won't solve any problem. Let's try to be mature and intellectual.

12:16 PM  

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