Pacific APA Hotel Boycott

Louise and Sally have sent us this to post. I urge you to read it (despite its length), as these are important issues and how our profession responds to them matters:

As you may already know, there is a union boycott of the Westin St.
Francis hotel in San Francisco, the site of the Pacific Division meeting of the
APA from March 30 through April 4 this year. To briefly review: on January 18
the Executive Secretary of the Pacific Division informed program participants
that United Here Local 2, which represents the hotel workers in San Francisco,
had called for a boycott of the Westin, along with a number of other major
hotels in the city, because of an unresolved contract dispute. Program
participants were surveyed concerning whether or not to move the conference from
the Westin, and also concerning the kinds of burdens such a move would incur for
them. After consulting the program participants, the decision was made to stay
at the Westin, with provision being made for those who want to honor the boycott
by moving their sessions offsite. It now appears that the University of San
Francisco will be hosting the offsite sessions.

We feel strongly that holding the convention at the Westin is
morally wrong. However, we are not trying to reverse the decision to stay now.
Rather, we are writing to urge you to sign a pledge to personally honor the
union boycott and to urge others to honor it. Since the union is asking that no
one “eat, sleep, or meet” in the hotel until an agreement is reached, we are
asking you to pledge not to set foot in the hotel during the convention as long
as the boycott remains in force.

In our conversations with other APA members, we have heard a number
of arguments against the view that we have a duty to honor the boycott. We’d
like to address them.

1. Some people are under the impression that the dispute between the
union and the hotel management is limited to a small and inconsequential matter.
Although the hotel management is representing the situation in this way, the
hotel workers tell a different story. Here is an excerpt from an email message
to a number of APA members from Connie Hibbard, Unite Here Local 2:

“My co-workers and I are currently in the midst of a dispute with Starwood
Hotels, the company that manages the Westin St. Francis. The company is
insisting on proposals that would make health benefits unaffordable for myself
and my family, cut workers’ retirement benefits, and increase workloads. This is
despite the fact Starwood made $180 million in profits during just nine months
last year, and the Westin St. Francis hotel itself generated over $11 million in
earnings. My co-workers and I went on a 3-day strike in November to show that we
will not let Starwood, whose CEO made $4.8 million in 2008, use the economy as
an excuse to squeeze us even harder. We are calling on all Westin St. Francis
customers to BOYCOTT the hotel until it agrees to a fair contract. I understand
the APA is taking input on whether or not to hold its conference at this hotel.
Unfortunately, the information the APA sent its members was false and misleading
on several counts. For example, the APA said that “there is no dispute over
salaries or working conditions” and that “the parties do not appear to be far
apart.” This simply isn’t true. The issues at stake in negotiations include
wages, working conditions, workers’ right to join unions, and affordable
healthcare.

And here’s a quote from Riddhi Mehta, taken from TV coverage of a picket of one
of the boycotted hotels:

“They want our members to pay $200 a month for health care over a period of
three years, and they can’t afford that. They make $30,000 a year and they
cannot afford that.”

2. Some people claim to see a morally significant difference
between a boycott and a strike; they say that they would never violate a strike
or cross a picket line, but that they do not feel the same obligation to honor a
boycott. We simply do not understand this reasoning. Strikes and boycotts are
tactical devices used by unions to attempt to offset the built-in bargaining
advantage naturally possessed by management, especially large corporations.
Both are effective and concrete means of promoting basic human rights for
working people who deserve to live decent lives. Unions waging contract
struggles need to be smart about how they expend their resources and so must
think strategically in choosing their tactics. We do not see how their choice
changes the moral valence. The justification for honoring a boycott is therefore
continuous with – and as strong as – the justification for honoring a strike.
Moreover, the costs to APA members of implementing the boycott are marginal
compared to what workers stand to gain.

We note, too, in passing, that contrary to what APA members were
told, the hotel workers have been engaged in picketing, as evidenced by the
television story cited above. Here’s Connie Hibbard again:

“[T]he APA said, “There are no pickets, though union staff may distribute
leaflets at the hotel doors”. Local 2 members have held multiple picket lines
outside the St. Francis. I myself participated in a lively picket line just a
few days ago, along with 150 coworkers, in front of the hotel. Starwood is
trying to spread the idea that it’s just a few “union staff” at our actions –
but APA members shouldn’t buy into this line. You can get a glimpse into our
struggle through a video that’s posted on our union’s website,
http://www.unitehere2.org.”

3. Finally, some people have cited the concessions and sacrifices
we are all being asked to make in these current, difficult economic conditions:
if we are accepting pay cuts, furloughs, higher work loads and increased health
care premiums, why shouldn’t the hotel workers also have to make concessions?

We have a great deal to say in response to this argument. First of
all, there are at least three factors that make the hotel workers’ situation
importantly different from our own. First, unlike the hotel workers, we are
employed by not-for-profit institutions; savings squeezed from us are not going
directly to profits. Second, the financial crisis in higher education,
especially in public institutions, is real, whereas the hotel group targeted by
the workers has posted healthy profits over the last year – for the Westin, $11
million over just nine months. This hotel group can afford a decent deal for
their workers, and is crying poverty merely as pretext. Third, size matters.
Although we recognize the precarious position of our un- and under-employed
colleagues, we wish to call on the consciences of those members who have secure
employment and comparatively generous salaries to act in support of workers
struggling for a decent life at the economic margins of society.

Second, the argument incorrectly assumes that college professors
ought in all cases to accept the concessions being demanded of them. But as the
recent protests in California attest, many of us are actively fighting wage
cuts, givebacks, and hikes in student fees, particularly when our employers
privilege administrators’ compensation over staff retention, faculty
recruitment, and student financial aid, or when state governments try to shift
the cost of running a public resource onto the backs of faculty, staff, and
students.

We hope you have found our case for honoring the boycott convincing
and agree to sign the on-line pledge we have created. Note, it is appropriate to
sign even if you are not planning to go to San Francisco, as the pledge involves
encouraging others to honor the boycott as well. The last day APA members can
sign this pledge is Wednesday 24th of March 2010. Once signatures have been
collected, the statement will be sent to the Westin Hotel and to the Union. The
Union may choose to post the statement and accompanying signatures on their web
page. To sign the pledge, please point your browser here.

3 thoughts on “Pacific APA Hotel Boycott

  1. O dear. I do think that the letter makes a strong case, but I’m concerned that there might be countervailing issues. In fact, having thought probably altogether too much about this situation, I’m still not sure I can accept the conclusion that the decision to stay was immoral, as the statement on the website puts it.

    None of what follows should distract from an appreciate of SFU’s generous offer. They really deserve thanks, as do those who have brought all this to our attention.

    While ignoring a boycott over something as important as health care seems pretty awful, I’m worried that there are members of our smaller philosophical society to whom we have some obligations. And there’s a background fact that might have to weigh with some people:

    Background: if you used the Vancouver Westin for last year’s APA, you may be getting special email offers from them over the last year. One of these would allow one four nights at the St. Francis for much less than the APA rate (i.e., something like $110 a night for a room, and $130 for a deluxe room). Unfortunately, at this rate the cost is non-refundable if you cancel. For some people, then, moving elsewhere will cost them roughly $400-$500.

    For various reasons, that’s not weighing as heavily with me as others. What I am worried about is its impact on the more vulnerable members:

    1. Some of our members are significantly disabled. USF is able to accommodate them, but how about getting to and from there each day? The area the campus is in is quite hilly. Taxis to and from could be expensive.

    2. There will be graduate students and young faculty who are there looking for jobs. What is going to happen to the job placement activities? The conference is also an important place to network, see former advisers/colleagues, and perhaps meet with a publisher.

    3. I see a number of people at the conference who, while not exactly disabled, are not in the greatest shape. Members may also bring impaired partners. It’s one thing to have one’s partner sit in the lobby talking to old friends while one goes off to sessions, but it might be harder to duplicate this elsewhere when the hotel is at some distance from the conference.

    4. Issues of safety: About the realism of this I just don’t know, but I’d worry about finding my way about alone in a major US city, especially after dark. I’ve been pursued by someone in a car and threatened verbally once, and that really was enough.

    I suspect that the decision to stay may have involved considerations at least somewhat similar to those above; I do know from communications that some members expressed similar views quite strongly on the questionnaire about moving. Perhaps some of these issues can be resolved and others may be less important than I now think.

    Please let us know what you think.

  2. As a member of the USF philosophy department, I welcome everyone to our campus as an alternative site for the APA.

    But I entirely agree with jj that many will not be able to pledge to boycott the St. Francis and will need to attend the meetings at the hotel (due, e.g., to disabilities, non-refundable rates, etc.)

    As I said in my response to the APA’s survey, the matter should have been put before participants/membership much earlier. A quick look at Union 2’s website reveals that the St. Francis went on a mini strike in November 2009, which alerts one to the seriousness of the workers’ cause. If the APA had put the matter of the labor dispute before the membership in September, we could have thought more seriously about a genuine alternative site that everyone could attend.

    Note that my department is not charging for attendance at USF. We are using our own funds to provide morning and afternoon coffee service, to have staff and student workers on hand, etc. We are of course happy to provide the alternative site. Nonetheless, I’d urge everyone, whether or not you sign the petition, to contact the leadership of the Pacific APA and ask them to make sure that labor disputes are not an issue for our meetings in the future.

  3. I’m all for not sleeping and not eating at the hotel. Unless there’s a very boring talk (mine, for example), I think I can honor this. I hereby vow that I won’t eat or sleep at the hotel (w/ the exception of boring talks that I might hear). I’ll bring my coffee in from other places and spend my nights somewhere else in the city.

    I’d like to not meet at the hotel, but there’s a lot that I’ll lose out on if I stay out of the hotel and I don’t really see how refusing to step foot into the hotel is going to help the cause. The hotel has the APA’s money, there’s nothing that can be done about that now. I think I have to go into the hotel to register. That’s the only place I can think of for meeting friends and acquaintances. (Selfish, yes, but for some of us the APA is our social outlet.) CUP and OUP will have their booths inside and the one thing I treat myself to every year is an APA book binge. (This year for Christmas and my birthday, I got nothing. Damnit, I’m going to treat myself to some Oxford Handbooks!) I have a paper to present and last I checked, not everyone in my session has signed off on moving to USF. Am I to present my paper next to the living robots in the shadow of the hotel or am I supposed to not present at all and eat the airfare? I’ve already paid for my flight (out of my own pocket) and the costs (admittedly, to me) of staying out of the hotel seem rather steep when compared to the benefits to the workers, which seem rather small.

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