Friday, January 13, 2006

AAA LRC Report on Actions to Date

Below is the text of the report the AAA Labor Relations Commission has submitted to Anthropology News. It will appear in the February issue. Thought folks here would want to know what we've been up to. The LRC would very much like to be in dialogue with AAA members about the work we're doing. Please use the email addresses provided at the site listed below to contact us.


After relocating the 2004 annual meeting of the AAA from San Francisco to Atlanta because of labor issues, the AAA Executive Board (EB) established the Labor Relations Commission. Its term is from January 15, 2005 through the AAA Annual Meeting in November, 2009.

We have prepared this report to better communicate with our fellow AAA members and in the interest of transparency. We urge you to communicate any questions or concerns you may have directly with us via e-mail addresses listed at the AAA website.

The LRC is charged with (1) providing information to the AAA Executive Board and staff as they negotiate contracts that promote collective bargaining and the right to organize while protecting the Association from liability and the disruption of its scheduled annual meetings, and (2) sharing information with other scholarly associations for the above purposes. In addition to frequent email communication, we have had six meetings via conference call, as well as a face-to-face session at the AAA meeting in DC. Our first task was to advise the EB on the wording of an AAA referendum on the policy of using only union hotels. We collected relevant data on the availability of unionized sites and debated the language of the ballot measure.

Our next order of business was to conduct research with other academic associations on their experiences with labor struggles and on the best practices regarding force majeuere (opt out) language and contract negotiation. We agreed on questions to ask and contacted fourteen academic organizations and spoke with their executive directors, staff, and/or board presidents. In addition, several LRC members had pro bono conversations with labor attorneys. We have presented a report to the EB summarizing these data. Alan Goodman and Rob O’Brien have maintained ongoing contact with UNITE HERE.

Most recently, we have advised the EB and AAA staff on the location of the 2006 meeting. Facing an ongoing hotel boycott by UNITE HERE in San Francisco and the probability that the ongoing contract dispute would result in losing another annual meeting in 2006, the LRC began to research alternate sites. In June, 2005, the LRC sent the EB and AAA staff the following:

“There now appears to be little reason to be optimistic that the labor dispute in San Francisco will soon be resolved, despite the agreement recently reached in Los Angeles and the relocation (or threatened relocation) of several large meetings and conventions since our 2004 annual meeting was relocated to Atlanta. Both the hotel/restaurant industry and UNITE HERE consider the stakes in San Francisco to be particularly high and there are a substantial number of crucial issues to be resolved. The Labor Relations Commission supports making an early decision to relocate the annual meeting to a site in which a substantial proportion of employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements that will extend at least through December 2006. From the point of view of labor relations we have two excellent options: San Jose and Vancouver. In both cases meeting rooms would be in the convention center, while sleeping rooms (approximately 1800) would be more dispersed than is customary for AAA.”

In July, the EB passed a motion to relocate the meeting to San Jose. Although time constraints prevented the EB and staff from considering San Jose a viable option in 2004, upon further research and communications with organizations that have met there it appears to be a promising meeting location.

The meeting will be held in the unionized San Jose Convention Center. Meeting participants will be almost entirely housed in hotels in which employees are represented by UNITE HERE, including the San Jose Marriott (the meeting headquarters) and the San Jose Hilton (both attached to the convention center).
• The labor situation is stable in San Jose, in part because the hotels, unlike those in San Francisco, are under local rather than corporate ownership. UNITE HERE has assured us that that we will not encounter any labor strife in San Jose.
• Conference Direct, the company with which we currently subcontract to plan our meetings, as well as AAA meeting organizer Lucille Horne are very confident that all will proceed well in San Jose.
• The hotels are less dispersed than in Vancouver, the alternate location we considered, and the air fares cheaper for many participants.
• Relocating to this site communicates to San Francisco and other cities our commitment to labor-friendly policies.

The actions taken by the AAA have encouraged at least seven other national conferences to relocate their 2006 meetings from Multi-Employer Group hotels (known as MEG, a group of fourteen San Francisco hotels that formed a consortium to strengthen their position vis-à-vis labor contracts). The AAA represents considerable consumer power. Our memberships in our association give us collectively constructive and affirmative power that we lack as individuals. Joined with the power of other such organizations, we can be a positive force.

The boycott continues in San Francisco except for the Westin St. Francis Hotel, which has expressed its willingness to negotiate with the union.

After more than a year, hotel workers in San Francisco remain determined to win a decent contract. The LRC supports them in this goal for San Francisco and all hotel workers. LRC members believe that our support represents a professional commitment to the people most of us work with and benefit from: working people, especially the working poor and marginalized, many of whom are immigrants, women, and people of color. Moreover, we remain dedicated to minimizing the disruption that would inevitably result if our meeting hotels were surrounded by picket lines.

Ongoing Labor Issues

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing in the hopes of creating a dialogue about ongoing labor issues affecting (or being affected by) the AAA. I would like to ask people to post reponses to the list and to keep these limited to the issues raised below, as they fall both within the rationale for this blog and within the purview of those things on which AAA members can urge the AAA EB and section leaders to take action.

Although the Labor Relations Commission (of which I am a member) has done a tremendous job in thinking through and addressing labor issues related to the hotels in which we meet for conferences, there are several labor issues which fall outside the purview of the LRC. (A report on the Labor Relations Commission's work will be forthcoming in the February Anthropology News (AN) and on this blog).

First is the issue of Coke's efforts globally to suppress labor organizing. The Labor Relations Commission will be discussing a resolution to ban Coke products from all AAA meetings. Individual readers might consider supporting such a ban and also promoting one on your home campuses.

Second is the question of academic labor - supporting the rights of graduate employees, adjuncts, and other contingent workers to organize and supporting the cases of folks like David Graeber at Yale.

Finally, as AN editors were just told recently, "AN changed its local printer from Fry Communications to Gannett starting with the November 2005 issue of AN, which resulted in a $10K savings." Gannett's labor practices are, of course, just the beginning of the problem with this media conglomerate. They're the largest newspaper chain and they've just started a bid to buy Knight-Ridder (the second largest). If you're familiar with Robert McChesney's work on media consolidation (or Habermas' work on the lack of a public sphere), you know this goes far beyond labor union issues.

I hope that we can use this page and the list as a forum to discuss these issues over the next several weeks, and, perhaps, to come up with a plan of action.

All the best,