The Organization of American Historians was planning to meet at the Hilton San Francisco in late March, but decided just weeks before the meeting to move the 2,000-attendee event to the convention center in nearby San Jose.
OAH officials had polled its members and three-quarters said they did not want to cross the picket line at the hotel. They decided to move the meeting and are working with the Hilton to reduce or eliminate some $390,000 in cancellation fees. San Jose offered deep discounts and the meeting will cost only an additional $60,000. OAH officials say it was cheaper to move the meeting than hold it and facepenalties or cancel it and lose about $700,000 in revenues and penalties.
Hotel labor and management at 14 San Francisco hotels have been at odds for more than six months following a worker strike and subsequent lockout. Employees went back to work in November when the two sides agreed to a 60-day cooling period, which ended in January. Employees are still back at work, but the picketing continues.
The union, which represents hotel and restaurant employees, is calling planners who have booked meetings at any of the 14 hotels and informing them of the labor strife and the possibility of picketing, and urging them to relocate their events. Among the hotels in the labor dispute are the Hilton San Francisco, Four Seasons, Fairmont, Sheraton Palace, Omni Hotel, Grand Hyatt Union Square, and Westin St. Francis.
In March, Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, and the Professional Convention Management Association issued a joint statement speaking out against the San Francisco branch of the UNITE HERE union. “We condemn any effort to cause disruption of the meetings business, which may cause great injury to the economic stability of the targeted cities as well as the economic livelihood of the hotel employees,” the statement said.
UNITE HERE responded in a statement, saying, “We are surprised that after almost a year of our cooperation with meeting planners and group customers, MPI, PCMA, and ASAE have decided to speak out against our outreach to meeting planners.” The union says it will continue its outreach efforts to conventioneers and meeting planners who might be affected by the hotel labor situation in the San Francisco Bay area.