Friday, June 03, 2005

Labor Relations Commission

A recently released report from the AAA President's office to the AAA Labor Relations Commission. (Read my comments over at Savage Minds.)

June 1, 2005

To: Labor Relations Commission
From: Liz Brumfiel, AAA President
RE: 2006 AAA Annual Meeting Location

At its spring meeting, May 14-15, 2005, the AAA Executive Board had a lengthy and productive discussion of issues surrounding the location of the 2006 Annual Meeting, presently scheduled to be in San Francisco. Give the likelihood of hotel management-labor conflict at the San Francisco Hilton, the scheduled venue of the 2006 Meeting, and given strong indications from AAA members that they would not cross picket lines in the case of a strike or a lockout, the AAA Executive Board directed AAA staff to begin to explore alternative 2006 meeting times and locations and to initiate further surveying of membership as to acceptability of these other potential times and locations. The Board also agreed to make a decision concerning the 2006 meeting location no later than July 1, 2005, and it directed me to consult with the Section Assembly and the Labor Relations Commission regarding these deliberations.

This memo reviews the information that was considered by the Executive Board at its spring meeting.

Status of the Hotel Management-Labor Conflict

President-Elect Alan Goodman summarized the current and anticipated status of hotel management-labor conflict, based on conversations that Labor Relations Commission members Paul Durrenberger, Alan Goodman, and Rob O’Brien have had with UNITE-HERE (UH) representatives Neal Kwatra and Matthew Walker. Paul Nuti, AAA Director of External, International and Government Relations also participated in these conversations.

Goodman stated that the union regards San Francisco as “ground zero” in its struggle with the hotel/restaurant industry. Historically, the industry has been atomized, but its recent transformation from locally owned and controlled employers to a more consolidated, globalized structure has created a need for a “national-level relationship” between labor and hotel groups. This is necessary in order for labor to secure better terms on issues such as health care, safety, workers compensation costs, health insurance, and worker productivity.

Labor contracts will have expired in several major markets (New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Detroit, Monterrey and Hawaii) during 2005-2006. The union cannot provide any assurance to the AAA that the dispute in San Francisco will be resolved in advance of November 2006. Management shows no willingness to settle the dispute in the near term. The stakes for the union are particularly high in San Francisco where, according to the union, the hotel companies are making lots of money and the unions are among the healthiest, best organized, and strongest in the country. UH Local 2 is a “linchpin” of the UH national strategy. One-third of the San Francisco Hilton’s cash flow comes from academic/professional groups like the AAA. Hilton has stated recently that its recent weak performance in San Francisco is a result of the labor action. Walker expressed appreciation for the AAA’s engagement and support in the labor dispute.

Goodman said that he had every reason to believe that the current labor action will still be in effect in 2006. So, it is important to begin examining options for the 2006 Annual Meeting.

Membership Survey

AAA Executive Director Bill Davis then presented the results of the recent email membership survey. Approximately 22% of the membership responded to the survey.

In response to question 1, “If there is an employee strike at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel at the time of the 2006 AAA Annual Meeting and a picket line established at the hotel, would you be willing to cross the picket line to attend the Meeting?”

9% of respondents answered “Yes”
75% of respondents answered “No”
14% of respondents answered “It would depend on the situation” and
2% of respondents answered “I don’t know”.

In response to question 2, “If employees of the San Francisco Hilton Hotel at the time of the 2006 AAA Annual Meeting are being locked out and a picket line established at the hotel, would you be willing to cross the picket line to attend the Meeting?”

8% of respondents answered “Yes”
83% of respondents answered “No”
8% of respondents answered “It would depend on the situation” and
2% of respondents answered “I don’t know”.

In response to question 3, “If union representatives of San Francisco Hilton Hotel employees are urging a boycott of the hotel at the time of the 2006 AAA meeting, but employees are not on strike or locked out of the hotel, would you be willing to attend an AAA meeting at the San Francisco Hilton?

28% of respondents answered “Yes”
39% of respondents answered “No”
29% of respondents answered “It would depend on the circumstances” and
5% of respondents answered “I don’t know”.

In response to question 4, “Under normal circumstances, would you expect to attend the AAA Annual Meeting in 2006?

80% of respondents answered “Yes”
5% of respondents answered “No”, and
16% of respondents answered “I don’t know”.

The Executive Board concluded that these responses provided clear evidence that the AAA cannot hold an effective annual meeting in San Francisco in 2006 if, as seems likely, management-labor disputes are occurring at the time.

Bill also reported on the cost to the AAAof moving the 2004 meeting to Atlanta. The total cost of the move was $445,394. This total includes:

Refunds to AAA members (registrations and abstracts): $296,015
Exhibitor fee refunds: 55,050
Special event refunds: 2,500
Child care contribution refunds: 107
Atlanta Hilton attrition clause (50%) 81,000
Legal fees 10,722

A more detailed report on the financial consequences of the decision to move the 2004 meeting
from San Francisco will be provided to AAA members in the Anthropology News this fall.

Finally, Davis reported on a survey on labor/hotel conflict he conducted among the 67 national scholarly organizations who hold membership in the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and of two recent meetings of ACLS during which issues involving hotel contracts for 2005 – 2007 had been discussed at length. Among issues viewed as most problematic were (1) the difficulty of informing association members about the consequences and costs of breaking contracts for annual meetings, (2) identifying the particular circumstances in which a society should employ its meeting location policy to serve the advancement of social policy goals, (3) the extent to which the use of meeting location policy to achieve social policy objectives was severely restricting the number of city and hotel venues available for large scholarly meetings, and (4) the likelihood that continuing hotel labor/management conflict could prevent some of the scholarly societies from continuing to successfully conduct their traditional annual meetings. The chief executive officers of ACLS member societies have agreed to continue to work together in addressing these and other issues.

Report of the Labor Relations Commission

AAA President Liz Brumfiel provided a brief report of the activities of the labor Relations Commission’s efforts to forge liaisons with other scholarly and progressive organizations.

The LRC has learned that a few organizations have negotiated contract language that reduces or eliminates financial penalties for cancellations in response to strikes or other labor disputes. For example, the American Sociological Association has included paragraphs in some of its contracts that permit the Association to cancel its hotel contract in the event of any labor dispute that it believes will disrupt or interfere with the Association’s Annual Meeting. The ASA must demonstrate at least 40% of its members would refuse to attend the Annual Meeting due to the labor dispute.

The American Studies Association includes a paragraph in its Standard Agreement that gives it the right to cancel its contract without penalty if there is a possibility that organized labor actions (such as picketing) could occur during the meeting dates.
Brumfiel noted that while these contracts protect organizations against financial loss when they cancel meetings at locations where labor struggles are in progress, the contracts provide no protection against the disruption that occurs when meetings must be moved on short notice from one location to another. The way to avoid meeting disruption is to determine the dates that labor contracts will expire in advance of signing a meeting contract with a hotel and to avoid signing contracts with hotels for years when their labor contracts are due to expire.

Brumfiel also noted that other organizations have had difficulties as a result the San Francisco labor disputes. The Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association decided to proceed with its meeting in a hotel that was being struck, and this decision caused deep and bitter division within the association, disputed elections of officers, and the resignation of the APA executive director. The Organization of American Historians decided to move its March-April 2005 meeting from San Francisco to San Jose when they became aware that there was “a distinct possibility of a strike, lockout or continued boycott at the Hilton in San Francisco.” The move cost the OAH somewhere around $460,000, about the same as the loss to the AAA when it moved its 2004 meeting to Atlanta. However, the OAH is about half the size of the AAA, and most of its loss was incurred as liquidation damages paid to the SF Hilton whereas most of the AAA loss was incurred as registration fees refunded to its members and none of the loss was paid out to the San Francisco Hilton Hotel.

Brumfiel concurred with other presenters that the key to avoiding disruption of the 2006 meetings was to make an early decision to move the meeting, giving the SF Hilton time in which to rebook the room space cancelled by the AAA and before any AAA members make arrangements to attend the meetings.

Discussion of the AAA’s Options

Discussion then ensued of the AAA’s options for 2006. AAA Director of Meetings Lucille Horn reported that she had already initiated a discreet search of unionized locales that might be available for the 2006 Annual Meeting. She observed that when the AAA puts out a RFP to hotels, it lists unionized facilities as one of its requirements. Thus, hotels everywhere are made aware that the AAA will give its business only to unionized hotels.

Board Action on the 2006 Annual Meeting Location

After this discussion, Alan Goodman moved the following:

Whereas, there is continued labor unrest in San Francisco


Whereas, a recent membership poll shows strong support for not attending a meeting at a hotel involved in labor unrest:

1) The AAA Executive Board directs AAA staff to explore alternative 2006 meeting times and locations,
2) The Executive Board directs AAA Staff to initiate further surveying of membership as to acceptability of these other potential times and locations,
3) The Executive Board directs Liz Brumfiel, Alan Goodman and Bill Davis to consult with the Section Assembly, and the Commission on Labor Relations regarding the deliberations of the AAA Executive Board, and
4) The AAA Executive Board agrees to set a time for the Board to come together via email or telephone, not later than July 1, 2005.

By a unanimous vote, the motion was adopted.


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