The American Sociological Association chose to pull its 5,500-attendee annual meeting out of Chicago due to continuing hotel labor disputes. The meeting has been relocated to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas August 20–23, one week later than it would have been held in Chicago.

The ASA board voted in late December to cancel Chicago because hotel workers there have been without a contract since August 31, 2009. Talks between the union, Unite Here Local 1, and hotels have stalled. “Without any sign of an imminent resolution, the ASA council voted unanimously to move the meeting from Chicago because ASA cannot guarantee that the facilities and environment necessary for a successful meeting will be available,” said Sally Hillsman, ASA’s executive officer, in a press release.

The annual meeting had been scheduled to take place August 13–16 at the Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton, which are just two of the 30 hotels in the city that have not signed new labor contracts.

ASA is able to get out of its meeting contract without penalty because it stipulated that the association could terminate if hotel workers at the properties were working without a contract. “It’s about having clear contracts that spell out the association’s position with regard to things that are important to its members,” said Kareem Jenkins, director of meeting services at ASA in Washington, D.C. With members in the social sciences, labor issues are important to ASA. “When we are entering into cities that have contract rotations that will be expiring, we pay attention to the status of those negotiations.”

ASA generally doesn’t get any pushback from hotels. “We have a good working relationship with a lot of the hotel partners,” Jenkins said. “Our hotel partners understand where we are coming from, and that goes back to clear communication and education about who we are. We have to retain the integrity of our meeting and its operations.”

Jenkins stressed that this was not about breaking a relationship with Hilton. It’s a move dictated by negotiations throughout the city that just happens to involve Hilton. “We have a great partnership with [Hilton],” he said. “Our first choice is to find something within their chain.” While ASA looked to rebook at another Hilton property, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas best met the group’s logistical requirements. “Not only is Las Vegas vibrant and fascinating from a sociological perspective, but it is also easily accessible for our members around the country,” Hillsman said in a press release. Caesars also afforded ASA the opportunity to hold its entire meeting under one roof.

This is not the first time that ASA has moved a meeting over labor issues. Its 2005 annual meeting was moved twice. It’s also not the only association to move a meeting because of expired labor contracts. The American Political Science Association moved its 2011 annual meeting from San Francisco to Seattle this past fall for the same reasons. (San Francisco hotel workers have been working without a contract since August 2009.)

Relocating the meeting on short notice is not without challenges. “At this point it’s fairly tight,” Jenkins said. “This is a big ship, so we need to shift it in a different direction.” Mainly, it impacts the local arrangements committee, which had been planning content and activities related to Chicago for several months.

The move also affects sister associations that co-locate their annual meetings with ASA. “These associations book their meetings entirely on their own, but they usually like to be in the same city and overlap with our meeting dates,” Jenkins said. Many of the members of these sister associations attend ASA, and vice versa, “so all of us are interconnected.” While these associations are looking to follow ASA’s lead, each needs to determine what’s feasible from a contractual and logistics standpoint.

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