It all started innocently enough—at least for me. It was really a heart wrenching story. Housekeepers at the Hyatt Regency Hotels in Cambridge and Boston spent a day with trainees following them, only to find out at the end of the day that they were actually training their replacements. I remember reading this article and finding it to be, well, morally wrong. The workers were replaced because their jobs were outsourced to a Georgia company who could do it for less. According to the article, a housekeeper working for them for 22 years was making $16 dollars an hour plus benefits. Perhaps that is good money in Georgia, but here in Boston it is poverty, plain and simple. This happened a year and a half ago, and while I remember that they picketed at the time, I don’t remember anything coming of it. As a new Ph.D in 2009, I also had my own employment situation to worry about (something I still have to worry about.)
All was going well until this past February when I received a comment from one Powell Degange concerning the ongoing labor dispute in San Francisco. The comment was:
We have recently learned that the American Musicological Society is hosting their upcoming conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. On June 8, 2010 employees at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco went on strike and called for a boycott of their hotel. We write to inform members of the AMS about the dispute and respectfully ask your organization to relocate the event to a different venue and to not eat, sleep or meet at the Hyatt Regency.
The members of Local 2 have been struggling to renegotiate a contract that secures affordable health care and retirement benefits. In San Francisco, and in cities around North America, Hyatt Hotels is squeezing housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bellpersons, and others harder than ever, trying to lock in ever-higher profits as the hotel industry grows. In wage and benefit agreements over the last several decades, we have forgone larger wage increases to keep our medical benefits affordable for ourselves and our families. Now Hyatt is pushing proposals that would lock workers into a permanent recession even as Hyatt benefits from the economic recovery.
Recent multi-city strikes represent a major escalation in a labor dispute involving Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have been the target of a number of major demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across North America this summer. Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt has become an obstacle to the recovery of working families. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009.
On January 18th, 2011 Hyatt workers took to the streets to defend their Legal Fund from Hyatt hotel management. The Legal Fund protects members from evictions and foreclosures and facilitates legal immigration (citizenship, work permits and family reunification).
In recent negotiations, Hyatt went backwards in their pension proposal and it has become abundantly clear that this labor dispute is going to continue well into next year.
The AMS and its convention patrons are caught in the middle of this contentious labor dispute. The dispute will continue to escalate as will demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience actions and the on-going boycott, until workers secure a fair contract. AS members of the larger Bay Area Community we ask you to respect SF Hotel Workers and encourage your organization to avoid the labor dispute and meet at an alternate venue.
For more information about hotel labor disputes in San Francisco, you can visit our website at www.onedaylongersf.org. Please contact us to address any questions and so that we may assist you in moving to a hotel not subject to a labor dispute.
At first I really didn’t know what to do with this. Many of my relatives are card carrying members of unions, and I believe that many of the positive things that have happened in my life can be attributed to the labor movement—so needless to say I felt I should do something, despite the fact that I doubted at the time I would even be able to afford to travel to San Francisco next year. Indeed, I have let my membership in the AMS slip simply because I can’t exactly justify the expense of the dues. However, I am still a member of the email list, so I sent it along to the membership thinking that at least the membership should know that they are about to cross a picket line and would respond.
After Dr. Judd, (the E.D.of the AMS) responded to my post by downplaying the dispute, and stating that “contrary to Joseph’s post” there was no strike. To this, there was no response from the membership. In fact, the silence was terrifying. Could it be that the membership of the AMS might not really care whether or not they cross a picket line? Especially in the context of this, and this. By attacking state unions in Ohio and Wisconsin, these people are actually attacking musicologists. How in the world would it look if we stomped on someone else’s picket line? In the meantime I was quite worried that I had torpedoed my own career with an overtly political email.
Next, as they often do, the union raised the stakes by producing this video:
The video is rather well done. It ends with a Priest who describes the boycott as a “moral issue” and, most memorably, “do you like music? well, we are going to give you music when you come here…” You really should watch it!
I’m not sure how the AMS responded to the video. There is a link to “Information regarding the current labor dispute” on the society’s page, but “Due to the sensitive nature of information on this page” it requires a log in, and I am no longer a member. In the meantime, I sought instances where the AMS had backed any union or political organization through resolution or any other method (besides the now infamous resolution against torture). The only thing I could find, which I thought was wonderful at first, was a resolution supporting teaching and research assistants. Wonderful, that is until I noticed that the organization is called the “American Musicological Association” not “society.” One wonders if some grad students in Chicago made up the resolution absent support from the actual AMS. Anyway, it was all beginning to sound like the beginning of a tale by Bulgakov, but instead of writers, they are musicologists re. MUSOLIT. The ultimate question is whether or not a field that spends so much of its time seeking its own relevance would, when finally confronted with an opportunity to be relevant, cross a picket line?
Then the sun burst forth! No, really! I was first told by a colleague that there were some folks (I believe she said “they are trouble makers too”) out West who were not happy with the possibility that the professional organization that is supposed to represent us is going to stand against workers. When I saw the petition they were circulating, and all the wonderful names already on it, I actually went out in my front yard and jumped for joy! The petition reads:
Mounting evidence suggests the ongoing labor dispute involving workers at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco will persist through the end of this year, and that there will be a picket during the AMS annual meeting in November. We the undersigned would be very reluctant to cross a picket line or violate a boycott. We recognize that our actions may affect the lives of workers with difficult jobs, little visibility, and an unstable position in the economy.
We strongly urge the AMS leadership to poll its members on the following question: “Would you cross a picket line to attend the annual meeting of the AMS?”
We further ask that the AMS leadership:
1. explain fully the terms of our contract with the Hyatt;
2. actively pursue the possibility of changing hotels. This should involve seeking advice from legal counsel, the local union (Unite Here Local 2), and other academic organizations that have faced similar situations.
Going forward, we ask that the AMS follow organizations such as the American Studies Association in:
1. using an event planner sympathetic to the cause of hotel workers;
2. adopting a policy of union preference in negotiating hotel and service contracts;
3. adding labor disputes to the standard escape clause in any AMS contract for convention hotels and meetings.
We express our solidarity with and concern for Hyatt’s hotel workers.
I love these people. The response (sent to the AMS list) acknowledged the petition and stated that the AMS board of directors will be meeting this weekend and will consider the petition very carefully. Even better, the SMT (Society of Music Theory) is also looking at their own process for holding conventions. Who knows what the board of directors will say when they come out of their secret summit, but I can think of nothing more positive for our field than this development! I do wonder why they have to be so secretive with discreet meetings and secret, log in protected webpages.
Since this all began, I’ve managed to pick up two classes and a job assisting another (and perhaps a VAP for next year) with the result that after I pay a bill or two I might be able to afford to rejoin the AMS and perhaps even go to San Francisco next year—whether to picket or convene is up to the AMS!