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MPI and other associations bash hotel union boycotts

Meeting Professionals International, the American Society of Association Executives, and the Professional Convention Management Association are speaking out against the San Francisco branch of the UNITE HERE union, which is asking event planners to boycott Bay area properties that are being picketed.

Two weeks ago, the associations issued a joint statement saying: "We condemn any effort to cause widespread 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 at the targeted properties."

As reported in Eventline, hotel labor and management at 14 San Francisco hotels have been at odds for more than six months following a workers 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 issues have not been resolved and picketing continues.

Union Calling Clients

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 to other properties. 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.

The Organization of American Historians was planning to meet at the Hilton San Francisco March 31 to April 3 but decided to move the 2,000-attendee event to the McEnery Convention Center in nearby San Jose.

Who's Reaching Whom?

OAH officials polled its members, and three-quarters said they did not want to cross the picket line. So rather than cancel the meeting, they decided to move it--but at a cost. They are working with the Hilton to reduce or eliminate some $390,000 in cancellation fees, and they were able to get deep discounts in San Jose, where the meeting will cost only an additional $60,000. Officials determined that it was cheaper to move the meeting than hold it and face massive attrition penalties or cancel it and lose about $700,000 in revenues and penalties.

UNITE HERE took exception to the joint statement from MPI, ASAE, and PCMA, saying, "We've done our best to reach out to the group customers, particularly planners who have meetings planned in the near future in either of these cities, so that they have up-to-date information about our negotiations and about how these negotiations may affect their group's meeting."

The union says it has been inundated over the past few months with requests from meeting planners for information on the situation because the hotels have not been forthcoming. "We are surprised that after almost one full year of cooperation with meeting planners, MPI, PCMA, and ASAE have now decided to speak out against our outreach to meeting planners and group customers." The union says it will continue its outreach efforts to conventioneers and planners about the current labor dispute. -- By Dave Kovaleski

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