Don’t book that ticket!

I know all of you were ready to run out and buy tickets for the 2006 AAA meeting in San Francisco, but you’d better hold off. In a recently released report from outgoing AAA President, Liz Brumfiel, the AAA makes clear their intentions to seek an alternative venue. The thinking is sound enough, better relocate now than avoid difficulty later, but I’m not sure it solves the problem, and I wish the AAA instead sought to maximize its leverage in favor of the workers.

It sure looks like 2006 will be a key year in the battle for worker’s rights in San Francisco:

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.

Brumfel’s argument is that while new language in the contract might allow the AAA to avoid financial liability for relocating in the event of a strike (the American Studies Association has such a clause in their contracts), this would not address the financial and organizational burden of having to relocate. While true, it also reduces the leverage that the AAA might have to influence such contract negotiations by effectively pulling out early. Nor will it necessarily solve the problem. It is entirely possible that workers at the new location will strike in solidarity with the SF workers in 2006, or that the location will be subject to a boycott.

Although the survey shows that most AAA members who responded to the survey are unwilling to cross a picket line, my personal experience has been that few people made the effort to understand what was at stake in San Francisco, and that most anthropologists saw the move as an inconvenience. It is therefore useful to learn from one organization which decided to go ahead with their meeting in San Francisco last year:

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.

Many anthropologists seem to feel that, because we are a generally progressive lot, we shouldn’t have to suffer for our beliefs, and should even be given special considerations by the unions. I think anthropologists forget that they are members of a very large institution (the AAA) with considerable financial and political clout. At a time when there is an all out cultural war over the control of nearly every cultural institution in American society (see this post I wrote on the New York Historical Society), I believe it is doubly important to take the political role of the AAA seriously and to fight hard to make it a genuinely progressive institution. The current policy of the AAA seems to be to “do no wrong”; but it isn’t enough to simply duck the bullet, the AAA should be taking the lead in defending our institutions from the conservative onslaught. Otherwise we’ll be screening movies on Intelligent Design at the next AAA.

One thought on “Don’t book that ticket!

  1. Pingback: AAAUnite
  2. If the discipline is politicized, it is put on the street so to speak. Backlash and irrational reactions come with the street because politics and the common man go hand in hand. Threats over funding and donations, nasty letters, alumni grubmling, editorials, media attacks, etc. all come with this turf. If you take the moral high ground, then you have to defend it, it is as simple as that. If folks want to spend time arguing and defending political morality, then it is less time spent in the field and research library, and it fosters a public image of Anthropologists as political agents.

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