Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pacific APA SNAFU (Updated)

Via anon 11:11 and Think Tonk, we learn that the organizers of the Pacific APA meeting are in a bit of a pickle:
The Pacific Division recently learned that the union representing San Francisco hotel workers has called for a boycott of several San Francisco hotels, including our conference hotel. The Executive Committee would like to know whether you feel that the meeting should be moved outside San Francisco or whether you oppose moving the meeting.
Apparently they are considering moving the meeting to San Jose, which is less than 40 miles from the San Francisco airport, or Las Vegas, which is less than 570 miles from the San Francisco airport.

A less fair person would point out that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, the union has been urging a boycott against the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco since at least August, 2009, and that a responsible organizing body would have made this decision much earlier in the game. But let's not play the blame game. Let's be constructive.

For one thing, I think it would be very, very bad to move the conference to Vegas at this point. People who are planning to attend have already made travel plans. On the other hand, I think it's pretty important to stand in solidarity with our hotel-working brothers and sisters. While they are lucky to have jobs, their jobs are no doubt much more unpleasant, soul-crushing, and exploitative than the jobs we have (or hope to have). We should help them out and avoid the seven San-Francisco-area hotels they ask us to. So I'm in favor of finding another hotel in San Francisco or else moving to San Jose.

Does anybody know what's actually happening?

--Mr. Zero

Update:

Clayton Littlejohn of Think Tonk shares the following email from a Local 2 member:
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 as 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.

Moreover, the 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, www.unitehere2.org.

We are asking you not to eat, sleep, meet, or speak at the Westin St. Francis. I would also like to ask you to contact the APA to let them know that you will not violate this boycott. Please contact the Pacific Division’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dominic McIver Lopes, at 604-822-6703 or dom.lopes@ubc.ca

We’re counting on your support. Thanks for taking the time to stand up for working people in San Francisco.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's any real possibility of moving it to some other place in SF. This has happened before (2005), and some of the sessions were held at SF State, if I recall correctly (I didn't go).

This is a tough call, but my view is: they aren't striking the hotel, so it's okay to decline Local 2's request to boycott on the grounds that the boycott would create such huge problems. But I'm neither very happy about this judgment nor very confident in it.

Clayton said...

I never know what's happening, but I don't have views on which ignorance enjoins silence.

I received an email from headquarters saying that they were going to conduct a kind of survey to measure the attitudes of Pacific Division participants. The results should be available sometime next week.

I received an email from, a member of the local union, which I reproduce here for your consideration. It reads as follows:

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 as 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.

Moreover, the 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, www.unitehere2.org.

We are asking you not to eat, sleep, meet, or speak at the Westin St. Francis. I would also like to ask you to contact the APA to let them know that you will not violate this boycott. Please contact the Pacific Division’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dominic McIver Lopes, at 604-822-6703 or dom.lopes@ubc.ca

We’re counting on your support. Thanks for taking the time to stand up for working people in San Francisco.

Sincerely,

Connie Hibbard

__
End note

Anonymous said...

I'm all for standing in solidarity with other people who have it tough. But moving the APA meeting to another city when one has already bought a plane ticket to San Fran is also quite a financial burden. In fact, an insurmountable one. I guess the San Jose thing might work. The real question is whether any conference-sized hotel is really available at such short notice. How does stuff like this happen?

Kevin Timpe said...

I know of at least three people (myself included) who have received phone calls from Local 2 members with much the same content as the email.

Anonymous said...

While they are lucky to have jobs, their jobs are no doubt much more unpleasant, soul-crushing, and exploitative than the jobs we have (or hope to have).

Debatable.

Anonymous said...

If it's true that the Pac APA honchos either misunderstood or misrepresented the nature of the situation, then it's their responsibility. It seems wrong to penalize at the last minute under-employed job market candidates who were out of the loop and who've already booked plane tickets.

Mr. Zero said...

It seems wrong to penalize at the last minute under-employed job market candidates who were out of the loop and who've already booked plane tickets.

Yes. It is wrong to do that. That's why they should move the conference to another hotel that is within easy driving distance of the San Francisco airport. And do whatever is possible to help such people find affordable rooms at this new hotel.

I mean, Las Vegas shouldn't even be in the calculus. (Whose stupid idea was that?) But San Jose should. What's wrong with San Jose?

Anonymous said...

"What's wrong with San Jose?"

Do you even know the way to San Jose?

Matt said...

Holding the conference at San Jose seems to me to be the proper solution here. In addition, the APA should contact the ownership of the hotel and make it very clear that they are standing in solidarity with the workers in this dispute.

I'm not going to the conference, and I can't say I'm 100% sure that I would hold my ground if I were in the fire here, but if I were a job candidate, I'd tell the school(s) interviewing me that I couldn't make it to the interview if it remains at the hotel....on solidarity grounds.

Anonymous said...

San Jose sounds reasonable. On a related note: When will the APA (perhaps in concert with the MLA and the AAUP, etc.) start organizing action against colleges and universities that create new administrative jobs while denying TT and VAP hires to departments, exploit adjuncts, and then give huge pay raises to administrators every year as a reward for the above-mentioned behaviors? When do we get a union?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that there's any possibility of moving. I thought the APA had a contract with the hotel, and it would be very surprising if the hotel allowed an escape clause for union problems. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

San Jose seems a fair, reasonable option. What a weird situation. Anon 1:02 or someone else who went to the meeting in 2005, how exactly did it work out back then?

zombie said...

I'm not going to the meeting, but I would be inclined to boycott the hotel. I'm all for a good boycott, and I wouldn't want to cross a picket line. San Jose sounds like the most reasonable option. Vegas is a stupid idea -- it would require changing flights, which the airlines penalize you for.

Sal said...

...how exactly did it work out back then?

They didn't move the Conference, and people were pretty pissed off. Some groups had sessions elsewhere -- there were meetings (I remember one was for the Society of Women in Philosophy) at the Sir Francis Drake, across the street.

I hope philosophy's Blogging Brians (Leiter and Weatherson) take this up quickly.

Anonymous said...

One year, the conference was at the Claremont Hotel in Oakland (behind Berkeley). That seemed like a nice venue and closer to San Francisco than San Jose.

Might I suggest that the APA take this up?

Really, the East Bay is nicer than San Jose, so if it can't be in the city, let's just go East!

curious said...

Just out of curiosity, why does the default position for most respondents appear to be "side with the union"? Each side in this dispute is going to frame its position in the most sympathetic terms possible, but absent quite a bit more information, we don't know whether the union's requests are reasonable. They may be, but certainly we are not, at this point, in a position to know that (even after e-mails and phone calls from union members).

If the APA hadn't yet made its plans, the dispute might give it a prima facie reason to not stage the APA there, but it has. the APA and attendees have made their arrangements, and it doesn't seem to me that they have an obligation to upset these arrangements based on a hunch that the union is in the right.

Anonymous said...

I argued in 2005 that the APA should have moved to SJ and that if the conference was in SJ and was asking to move to SF it would have. Many of the comments were just pro SF as a city.

Now as a tenured faculty member at a school with a union I STILL agree they should support this union.

Given that state budgets are being cut and financial exigency could cost professors (tenured) their jobs, we as a profession should support unions.

I presented my paper at SF state that year too. It was okay, and I didn't go into the Conference Hotel.

Mr. Zero said...

Just out of curiosity, why does the default position for most respondents appear to be "side with the union"?

Because corporations are designed (and if they are publicly traded, have a legal obligation) to move as much money as possible out of the pockets of the customers and into those of the owners. That means compensating the workers at the smallest level they can get away with. And in my experience, that almost always means treating workers as unfairly as they can. And in my experience, workers are almost never willing to go on strike unless this unfair treatment is truly egregious.

Seriously. Who is fucking over whom? The guy who owns the hotel, or the guy who cleans the toilets?

Cincinnatus C. said...

Anon 3:51 yesterday raises an important point: has the APA already paid or legally committed to paying for the hotel? If so, by not using the services for which it has paid, is the APA hurting the hotel owners or helping them?

I'd also like to put in another vote for Oakland, if it's got to be moved out of SF.

I would not cross a strike picket line. The ethical qualms I have about crossing a "boycott" "picket line" fall somewhere on my continuum of ethical qualms near those I already have about going to philosophy conferences in gold-plated hotels in the first place.

Mr. Zero said...

has the APA already paid or legally committed to paying for the hotel? If so, by not using the services for which it has paid, is the APA hurting the hotel owners or helping them?

I presume that the APA would be leaving some money on the table if they move the conference. However, it's not as though the APA has already paid in full. Moving the conference will lead to a large number of empty beds, uneaten meals, and undrunken beers. And this will lead to a correspondingly large number of dollar bills not finding their way into the Westin St. Francis.

Obviously, this isn't as good as if they'd never contracted with them in the first place. But it's gotta be way, way better than going through with holding the conference there.

curious said...

Mr. Zero, I appreciate your point about who is likely to be screwing over who, but aren't there other considerations to take into account?

Starwood (the owner of the Westin St. Francis) is a publicly traded firm, stocks of which likely find their way into the mutual funds of retirement accounts of many ordinary people. It is not as if all of the profits of the company are stacked neatly in one guy's vault next to his collection of Faberge eggs. The interests of the shareholders should not be ignored.

Additionally, for all we know, the outcome of this negotiation will affect, say, whether Starwood can open a new hotel somewhere. If meeting the union's demands makes it financially imprudent for them to do so, then all of those people who would have been employed by the hotel are worse off.

Of course, these considerations don't settle the matter at all, but they can be added to the list of relevant things we do not know.

Anonymous said...

Can we easily get from the San Fran airport to San Jose? Would the hotels in San Jose likely run shuttles? It'd been hard for a grad to come up w/ the extra cash a car rental requires.

Anonymous said...

Can we easily get from the San Fran airport to San Jose?

This might be duplicated in other comments, but yes: take BART to the Millbrae station, then catch the Caltrain to San Jose, assuming you arrive at a time when the Caltrain is running. There might be shuttles that run between airports, too. If you arrive in the off-hours and are terribly strapped for cash there are buses that take a long, crying-inducing time to get from Millbrae to the South Bay, but you will eventually get there. Getting from SFO to Oakland might be simpler, but isn't necessarily faster. I think San Jose is a totally reasonable alternative to SF; if not, even Mountain View or elsewhere on the peninsula could work.

Mr. Zero said...

but aren't there other considerations to take into account?

Of course.

The interests of the shareholders should not be ignored.

I hope you didn't literally think that I was suggesting we ignore the shareholders.

...but they can be added to the list of relevant things we do not know.

There are countless relevant things that we just are not in a position to know. Yet we must decide.

Luckily, I think we know enough to be fairly confident that complying with the boycott is the right thing. For one thing, although there are plenty of exceptions, large corporations tend to exploit the menial laborers to whatever extent they can. For another thing, menial laborers do not tend to organize into unions, spearhead boycotts against their employers, or go on strike unless they have a pretty good reason. All of these activities carry substantial risks to their own livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families.

You make an interesting point about the consequences with respect to the hypothetical future Westin. That's why I think that the tenure system should be abolished and all classes should be taught by adjucts who work on term-to-term contracts that pay peanuts. Just think of all the extra colleges the owners could open, and all the extra professors they could exploit. Er, hire.

dominic said...

The Executive Committee of the APA has published a statement at http://apa-pacific.org.

Sal said...

There are shuttles between San Francisco airport and San Jose, but they are quite expensive -- $60+. If you can get two people together, it's probably cheaper to rent a car. (Although maybe not -- parking in San Jose might be expensive, I don't know.)

12:18, about how long would the public transportation option take?

(By the way, I doubt there are hotels in Mountain View big enough to hold the Pacific APA meetings. San Jose has a convention center, with an attached Marriott.)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Las Vegas was brought up as a possibility. I mean, the Bay area is, well, pretty big! I know it's a short time frame, but I find it hard to believe that nothing in the whole area would be available. And there is public transit to most of it.

Anonymous said...

12:18, about how long would the public transportation option take?

Really depends on the time of day: the BART trip to the Caltrain station takes about 5 minutes; the Caltrain takes anywhere between 45m and 1hr 10m. (see http://www.caltrain.com/timetable.html#weekday-southbound -- on the weekends it runs considerably less often.) Plus waiting time. The issue is how to get from the train station in SJ to the hotel; I have no information on that.

So: not ideal, but it is the sort of thing I routinely do.

Anonymous said...

For those of you not familiar with California, San Jose is almost an hour from SFO by car. Much slower on BART and then Caltrain, since there's no direct BART connection to San Jo, for some retarded reason. This adds a lot of time, as well as expense, to your travels. A big part of why you would want to attend the APA Pacific is to visit San Francisco.

There are large hotels in Burlingame, right next to SFO, that could host the APA. (But still no BART stop.) They could also hold the APA in Palo Alto/Stanford, which is about 30 minutes from SFO by car. (Also no BART stop, but closer and prettier than San Jo.) And SF State is an ok option, though there are no major hotels in walking distance. (But there is a BART stop next to it which connects to other BART stops in, say, Daly City.)

But if the APA moves at all, it will lose a lot of money in deposits, room guarantees, etc. even if not paid in full already. This is *our* money that we're letting go, on top of the extra inconvenience we're causing ourselves. The APA should suck it up, stay with the Westin St. Francis, and prepare to take a beating from its members.

Anonymous said...

This is *our* money that we're letting go, on top of the extra inconvenience we're causing ourselves. The APA should suck it up, stay with the Westin St. Francis, and prepare to take a beating from its members.

Presumably some of the inconvenience is (1) the time it would take to go to SJ and (2) the less vibrant cultural and restaurant scene.

But aren't there more important considerations than whether we'll be a bit inconvenienced? There's a reason labor unions, and the resulting actions they are sometimes forced to take, are important. Giving more bargaining power to those who have little and ensuring that even the most 'menial' employees at the hotel are offered some reasonable level of compensation, benefits, and working conditions is crucially important.

So I think that the actions that they are calling for - including boycotting the Westin - are likely more important than the inconveniences that would be associated with relocating the conference to San Jose or another neighboring area. Sorry that we won't get to see a bit of the city while we're there and visit that restaurant everyone is raving about, that we'll have to take a long and lumberous train (or, horrors!, bus), and that we may even have to pay a bit more to get there...but thems the breaks. To make conditions better for all, or more, sometimes certain groups have to make sacrifices. Sacrifices are rarely fun or pleasant, but sometimes they're morally obligatory nonetheless.

(Part of why I'm saying this - as an adjunct I think that *we* and grad students should be able to unionize and then should strike. We're not offered living wages, appropriate benefits, and (often) appropriate living conditions. And I hope that the faculty in permanent positions (and even some in the administration) would support us in this action, even if doing so would inconvenience them in a whole myriad of ways. It would be hypocritical to want others to support our potential collective action while refusing to support others', so long as theirs, too, is justified.)

Sal said...

It looks like the Pacific Division would not lose money by switching to another hotel. As the Executive Committee says here:

"Since 2005 it has negotiated hotel contracts that allow it to postpone a booking to a future year in the event of a labour dispute. "

So that cost can be crossed off the list. Of course, people may have bought non-refundable tickets already, so moving out of the Bay area would still be costly.

Anonymous said...

But aren't there more important considerations than whether we'll be a bit inconvenienced?

Unless you've worked in business and familiar with how the hospitality industry works as well as providing health insurance to employees, none of us here really knows enough about the labor dispute to make an informed decision to boycott.

On the face of it, yes, it's easy to side with employees, and who wouldn't want greater healthcare coverage for all? But I suspect the details are much more nuanced than a simplistic good workers vs. evil corporation scenario.

So erring on the side of caution, the APA should not do something as drastic as leave the hotel, which causes more trouble for its membership than justified (to our knowledge).

starman said...

I have some preference for supporting the union and moving the conference to another hotel. I really don't mind it being held elsewhere. But I can't afford to change plane tickets. There must be some venue that is easily accessible from SF airport. As much as I might support the workers, there is no way I support them to the tune of $600. If we tallied up all the potential losses we could probably buy a large number of workers health insurance. That bothers me. I'm not sure why. But I can't see how our responsibility, if any, to the workers can be that high.

CTS said...

This is a terrible situation.

I would like to speak on behalf of the unemployed and adjunctified (underemployed) who have laid out $$ and made plans for attending this conference. In addition to the difficulty of making a sound moral choice in the absence of adequate information, these folks are suffering under tremendous stress, already.

It would be easy for me as a Full Prof (and not going to the Pacific) to say these folks should support the employees in this situation. Even if I planned to attend the meetings, I could probably pay for extra travel and/or non-conference hotel fees. Nor would such a change upset me particularly.

But to suggest that unemployed and underemployed people pony up with their dollars, accept the added stress, and even risk their futures by refusing interviews held at the Westin..... that is really to ask too much of others.

I applaud any unemeployed or underemployed who are willing to make these sacrifices. I cannot argue that this is their obligation.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Starman. Even if we are obligated to support the employees in this particular labor dispute, what are the limits of that obligation?

Doesn't a great deal of responsibility fall on the APA which knew that this may be an issue (given that it signed a contract that allowed it to cancel the event in case of a labor dispute)? At the very least, they should have had a backup plan. And they should have told us that moving venues would be a real possibility, which would have signaled members to not buy their airfares until closer to the meeting date. If the APA moves the conference to, say, San Jose (or definitely in the case of moving it to Las Vegas), they should cover expenses related to itinerary changes, extra transportation costs from SFO, etc.

Anonymous said...

I will do what I can to support the workers, but there has to be a balance. For example, I plan to cancel my room at the Westin and find a union friendly place to stay at. I would also urge people who feel strongly to find an alternative venue for their session, and the APA should facilitate this. But if some sessions of interest to me are held at the Westin, I will also attend those. You do what you can.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 3:49, who says: On a related note: When will the APA (perhaps in concert with the MLA and the AAUP, etc.) start organizing action against colleges and universities that create new administrative jobs while denying TT and VAP hires to departments, exploit adjuncts, and then give huge pay raises to administrators every year as a reward for the above-mentioned behaviors? When do we get a union?

When the faculty at your institution unionize. I love my union, and it does all those things. Oddly enough, the APA had nothing to do with it.

Deirdre said...

Most plane tickets can be changed for around $100. You can then use what's left toward another ticket. On Southwest, there is no change fee, so you can use the whole value of the ticket toward another one. If you've already bought a ticket, and they change the location, check with your airline.