A personal response to SAA's stance on the Hyatt labor dispute

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve been following the ongoing labor dispute between UNITE HERE Local 1 (a Chicago-based hospitality workers union) and the Hyatt chain of hotels (one of which, the Hyatt Regency Chicago, is the site for the upcoming Society of American Archivists annual meeting) with growing concern.

The situation has been described in pretty great detail elsewhere, and a number of communications from SAA are available online, both on SAA’s website as well as a website that Mark Matienzo and I put together as a way of gathering commentary on the issue and providing ideas for how SAA members can respond to this situation in ways that respect workers rights.

I was inspired to write something a little more personal after receiving an email from SAA Headquarters that was sent to all registrants for the 2011 annual meeting. The entire text of the message is available here.

The first four paragraphs of the message are pretty much factual statements. There are some omissions, however. First, not only did the union hold one-day pickets at three Chicago hotels, they also held a one-day strike at the Park Hyatt on July 21st, during which a manager (who I’ve heard is no longer with Hyatt) ordered heat lamps near picketing workers turned on, on a day in which the heat index was over 109 degrees. But that’s not what caught my eye.

The thing that really upset me was the following paragraph, which is worth quoting in its entirety:

Some SAA members have been contacted directly and encouraged to influence SAA to move the meeting and/or not to attend the meeting themselves in support of the union and the workers’ cause. Union representatives also have visited SAA’s headquarters in Chicago six times since November 2010, including an invited visit to address the SAA Council on January 29, an unannounced interruption of the Council meeting on May 24, and an unannounced visit by five Unite Here representatives to the office of Executive Director Nancy Beaumont on July 19 at which the union representatives became confrontational and were then escorted from the building.

I’ve been trying since Friday to understand why this paragraph was included, and the only explanations that occur to me are ones that are dishonorable, unjust and extremely petty. So I’m ultimately left with a bunch of questions and one statement.

First of all, why is this information being disclosed now? Second, why was this message sent only to Annual Meeting registrants? Finally (and most importantly), what does SAA Headquarters hope to achieve by revealing this information? It’s all very unclear, and I’d love to get some answers to these questions.

The one thing that is very clear to me is that with this email is that SAA has finally revealed which side it’s on, and it’s not the side of the hospitality workers at the Hyatt Regency. It’s one thing for SAA to try and walk a neutral line in a labor dispute (although that’s usually impossible); it’s another for it to so blatantly place itself on the side of management and corporate interest.

This message was probably intended to encourage registrants who are considering boycotting the meeting to attend. Ironically, it’s done precisely the opposite for me. For the first time, I’m seriously considering whether I want to attend the meeting and continue supporting an organization that behaves in a manner so clearly antithetical to what I believe.