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Monday, August 17, 2009

[haw-info] 2010 AHA convention in San Diego - two points of view on a controversy

To members and friends of Historians Against the War,


As a service, we are providing two different messages regarding a controversy over the American Historical Association's convention hotel for its January 2010 meeting in San Diego.  A boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt had been called in July 2008 by a coalition of LGBT groups and the hotel workers union UNITE HERE in response to the hotel owner's having contributed $125,000 in personal funds to the campaign to amend the California state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.  In January the AHA Executive Council and Business Meeting both considered a proposal to relocate the 2001 convention and decided against it for financial and logistical reasons. 


Of the two messages that follow, the first is from Powell LaGange of UNITE HERE, sent to members of the University of Cincinnati history department and circulated on the Internet.  (The first part of the message, with specific reference to the AHA, is included here, with a link to the full message.)  The second is from Barbara Weinstein, a long-time member of HAW who was president of the AHA in 2007 and was a member of the AHA Executive Council through January 2009.


The HAW Steering Committee has not taken a position.  This message will appear on the HAW blog (http://www.historiansagainstwar.org/blog/), where any comments can be posted and read.




Dear History Professors of University of Cincinnati,


I am writing you to reach out for support on behalf of San Diego's hotel workers and the LGBT community in regards to the American Historical Association's (AHA) decision to hold its 2010 meeting at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.  This hotel, the 2nd largest Hyatt hotel in North America, is the site of a boycott called for by the LGBT community in San Diego, the Hotel Employees Union (UNITE HERE), and has been sanctioned by the San Diego Labor Council.


AHA Director, Arnita Jones, circumvented a proposed resolution signed by hundreds of AHA members to relocate the 2010 meeting and has kept the conference at the boycotted hotel.  Much of the reasoning behind violating the boycott was to avoid a possible cancellation fee.  Spending money at the Manchester Hyatt perpetuates injustice and discrimination here in San Diego.  The community has come together to ask groups to cancel in order to stand with all those fighting against discrimination and for justice for San Diego's hotel workers, women, immigrants and LGBT community.


Show your support by having your History Department pledge not to attend the AHA convention unless moved to an alternate site and faxing the attached pledge to AHA executive director, Arnita Jones at (202) 544-8307.


[Powell LaGange's full message, with more discussion of the boycott itself, can be accessed at






Dear HAW members:


First, I want to emphasize that, to my knowledge, there were no violations of AHA procedures (either in spirit or practice) in the way this resolution was handled.  The Council discussed the original resolution at great length, with Arnita Jones participating (ex-officio) in the meeting only to provide information when needed.  After a great deal of debate, the Council unanimously decided to propose an alternative resolution (which it has the right to do), and this alternative resolution easily passed at the Business Meeting.  As for why the Council decided to propose the alternative resolution, basically we feared that we would lose a ton of money (more about this below) if we withdrew from the Manchester Hyatt.  Since we would have to pay the Hyatt a great deal of money, and the hotel would not have to provide us any services, Doug Manchester might actually come out ahead from our "boycott."  There is still the symbolic weight of a boycott, which we recognized as significant, but we decided we could make an equally effective symbolic protest through highly-publicized panels, exhibits, etc.  And the AHA would arrange for rooms at other hotels for those members who preferred to stay elsewhere.  This is not an ideal resolution to the problem, but it's one that we thought would allow us to register our disapproval of Manchester's donation without bankrupting the AHA. 


The AHA arranges conference venues many years in advance, with the objective of getting the best possible rates.  So the contract with the Manchester Hyatt was arranged years ago (before the AHA resolution urging the staff to give strong preference to unionized hotels).  I have seen the contract and I think it is very unlikely that we could avoid a massive cancellation fee (it could be as high as $1million, though it would probably be somewhat less).  If there was any evidence of discrimination against LGBTQ customers by the hotel itself, then we might have a chance to withdraw without a substantial financial loss, but there isn't.  As one of the sites that DeGange lists says, the HRC has listed the Hyatt chain as among the best in their policies toward LGBTQ guests.  We may completely disagree with Manchester's decision to donate to Prop8, but that was a private act, separate from the policies and practices of his hotel, and that makes it much more difficult to avoid the cancellation fee.  Because of his donation, I would avoid staying there if I were going to San Diego on my own.  And if we were just now making arrangements for the 2010 meetings, I would strongly urge the AHA to locate them elsewhere.  But we have a longstanding contract, and as we know from the case of the OAH's experience with the Adam's Mark hotels, this sort of cancellation can bankrupt an organization.  And in the Adam's Mark case, the hotel chain actually had a policy that the OAH was protesting (rather than a private action by an owner)--and it still put the organization in deep financial trouble.  So it is extremely unlikely that we could withdraw in response to a private donation by the owner and avoid the cancellation fee. (Actually, it's not a cancellation fee--it's a guarantee to fill a certain number of rooms--but it amounts to the same thing). 


To make matters worse, there are very few large hotels in San Diego that can accommodate a meeting the size of the AHA.  You might note that the trial lawyers, one of the few organizations to withdraw from the Manchester Hyatt (and we have no idea what kind of advance contract they had, so it may not have involved financial loss--not to mention it's a much richer organization), moved their meeting to San Francisco, rather than to another hotel in San Diego.  It's not that hard to find (bed)rooms for those who don't want to stay at the Hyatt, but large numbers of meeting rooms are another matter. This means we might have to break our contract with two hotels, and somehow quickly find two very large replacement hotels in a completely different city, and that could lead to losses of well over $1 million.  The AHA's entire endowment, when I last checked, was only a little over $3 million, by the way. 


In the meantime, an ad hoc committee has been actively organizing panels and special events that will be publicized to the wider community.  I think it will be very clear to anyone paying any attention that the AHA's decision to hold part of its sessions in the Manchester Hyatt should not be interpreted as an endorsement of Manchester's position on Prop 8.  Again, the argument about not feeding his coffers is irrelevant since we would be forking over a great deal of money no matter what. 


As should be apparent, I'm urging HAW not to boycott the AHA meetings.  But if holding HAW-sponsored sessions in the Hyatt really seems unpalatable, HAW could request that HAW activities be located in the other headquarters hotel, the San Diego Marriott. 


Best wishes to all,

Barbara Weinstein


Blogger Powell said...

The boycott coalition has been reaching out to the AHA since 2008, and yet at AHA’s January 5th, 2009, Business Meeting, AHA leadership announced that it would not honor the boycott of the Manchester Hyatt and would go ahead as planned with their 2010 meeting at the hotel, despite the hotel owner’s support for the discriminatory Proposition 8. At that meeting, the AHA passed a resolution that established a mini-conference on the history of same sex marriage and other LGBT issues to be held inside the Manchester Hyatt during the convention. It also included a provision to set aside a minimum of $62,500 (and up to $100,000) to support initiatives proposed by an LGBT Task Force.
“So they line the pockets of a known supporter of the most notoriously antigay measure in recent history with millions of dollars, and assuage their own guilt by holding largely symbolic panel discussions and kicking in $100K,” said legendary LGBT activist and current UNITE HERE LGBT Campaign Director Cleve Jones. “Where I come from, that doesn’t cut it. It’s the height of hypocrisy to say you support LGBT workers on one hand, and then throw millions at an anti-gay, anti-worker owner on the other. AHA members should stand up and demand their leadership do the right thing and honor the boycott.”
These blunt words of Cleve Jones make the simple point that the AHA’s resolution in lieu of honoring the boycott does more harm than good to the coalition’s struggle for equality and justice. While it may be well-intentioned, the AHA’s resolution unintentionally sends a strong message that Manchester’s treatment of workers and discrimination against the LGBT community is acceptable.
In response to our concerns, the AHA has said that pulling out of Manchester Hyatt would cost the organization nearly $800,000 in cancellation fees. Executive Director Arnita Jones claims these fines would not only enrich Manchester, but would bankrupt the AHA. If that's the real risk, then of course the AHA would have to find some way of doing the right thing here and continuing to exist. However, the AHA has given no indication that it has even taken the first step in challenging that fee.
Had the AHA publicly challenged the outrageous cancellation fee that Manchester is seeking to use to force them to violate the values of many members of their organization, it might have had its cancellation fee significantly reduced or waived. The California Nurses Association, the Association of Realtors and the Trial Lawyers Association have all stood up to Manchester and successfully relocated their planned events without incurring devastating cancellation fees.

4:23 PM  

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