Saturday, March 13, 2010

Back to the picket line?

Hi. It's been some time.

I'm afraid I had to recover from commission-fatigue -- the creeping death that sets in when you've been part of a successful organizing campaign that is co-opted and turned into a rubber stamp for the policies you'd been fighting.

As you likely know, the AAA is meeting in New Orleans. They are doing so in violation of a AAA preference (which was, itself, a violation of an LRC motion and an AAA Exec Board vote for a REQUIREMENT) for meeting only in union hotels. Further, they have continued their opposition to using INMEX, the union-supported conference planning organization. Instead, they have continued their use of ConferenceDirect, which is a meeting planner run by former Hilton execs.

What can you do? Well, I'm boycotting the whole damned thing. No registration, no attendance, and no AAA membership fees from me this year.

Colleagues, however, still believe that working with the AAA leadership -- even it's union-hating, puppet master of an Executive Director, Bill Davis -- might get some change. They've composed the following letter, which they're asking you to sign on to. You don't have to be a section leader -- listing your section affiliation(s) could help sway your section leaders to do the right thing.

If you would like to sign on to the letter, please email Steve Striffler or Paul Durrenburger . The letter follows.

Best,

Rob O'Brien

Dear Section Head [address by name]
We are writing to request that you help us with a resolution to improve the AAA’s relationship with the people and places that host our conferences. As a section leader, you can bring a motion to the Section Assembly Convener and request that the Assembly discuss and vote on the resolution before the New Orleans meeting and discuss it further there. This is one prong of a 3 pronged strategy to achieve the change we think will help—to change the conference organizing firm that AAA uses from the corporate-friendly Conference Direct to the labor-friendly INMEX. The other prongs entail bringing a similar motion to the business meeting in New Orleans and discussing the matter with the AAA executive board. If you would like to help us with this important matter, please let us know and we will suggest other section heads that are of like mind with whom you might profitably work.
Background
Like other professional organizations, we should be using the money we spend individually and collectively on conferences in socially responsible ways that support the workers and cities that host our annual meetings. The best way we can do this is by shifting from a corporate-friendly planning agency, Conference Direct, to a labor-friendly one, INMEX. However, AAA staff have refused to make this shift.
In 2004 after a groundswell of member support, the AAA eventually supported locked out Hilton workers in San Francisco by cancelling our meeting there and moving it to Atlanta. Our actions were a catalyst for getting other professional associations to think about how to use their “hotel spend” more strategically. We followed up in 2006 by canceling another meeting in San Francisco. In spite of our early leadership in this area, AAA has lost the initiative and other professional organizations have taken the lead in this area.
Although there are many factors involved, two central reasons for this failure are a permanent staff at the AAA that has impeded all efforts in this area and an elected leadership that continually changes and has to be re-educated (and thus defers to the permanent staff on many questions). In addition, the Labor Relations Committee, set up by AAA leadership to handle precisely these issues, has been marginalized, ignored, and is not functioning as it was originally envisioned. In short, the existing structures and procedures that were put in place after 2004 have been tried in the best of faith and have failed us in the realm of labor relations with regard to meeting planning.
The way the meeting planning process works is that staff prepares a list of eligible locales (those with suitable facilities and that are not on the AAA list of sanctioned locales) and works with a planning organization that works out the details of how many rooms of what type we need for academic meetings, business meetings, and sleeping rooms, negotiates the rates for them, and schedules them for our use. This is a complicated process as it must account for every meeting and pay for every cup of coffee.
One of these conference planning organizations is the for-profit Conference Direct, organized and operated by former Hilton executives who make their money from organizations that use their services, among them the AAA. This is a staff decision.
As part of their working with professional organizations, the union that represents hotel workers, UNITE-HERE organized an alternative not-for-profit planning agency, INMEX, which offers the same range of services while also looking out for the interests of workers and protecting the AAA from San Francisco-type disasters. INMEX currently plans conferences for organizations such as the American Studies Association and plans all meetings for the Democratic National Committee. Unfortunately, even when the AAA permanent staff has been instructed by the AAA leadership to work with INMEX they have refused to do so (due largely to anti-labor sentiment).
This has led us where we are now: to a non-union hotel in New Orleans (2010); to no real commitment to the people or places that host us; and to a vision/practice of how we use our "hotel spend" that is no better than the average corporation.
Staff have pointed out that meetings are planned well in advance. When the Labor Relations Commission (now a Committee) first heard of the suggestion of New Orleans as a meeting site, they protested. They were removed from any decision making processes, and have remained side-lined since. Future meetings are planned for hotels whose workers are represented by unions in line with the AAA’s policy of “strongly preferring” union hotels. However, the AAA continues to refuse to plan its meetings via INMEX which leaves us vulnerable to labor problems such as San Francisco and does not use our collective and individual funds in the most socially responsible manner. INMEX not only insures that our meeting is planned smoothly and in union hotels (without labor disputes), but insures our money is strengthening the labor movement and going to companies and cities that are “doing it right.”
As a result, we, the undersigned, ask you to support the following resolution:

RESOLUTION
Whereas the AAA has a history of supporting UNITE HERE workers in the San Francisco lockout of 2004 and in negotiations during 2006.
Whereas the best way to support the people and places that host our annual meetings is for the AAA to switch from Conference-Direct, a for-profit meeting planner, to INMEX, a non-profit, union-friendly, planner that helps professional organizations (such as the American Studies Association and the Democratic National Committee) plan meetings, and use their “hotel spend” in a socially conscious manner.
Be it resolved that AAA will use INMEX as its conference planner.

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