Saturday, October 23, 2004

Transfer of AAA conference to a non-unionized Hilton hotel in Atlanta and the SF hotel lock out

A stakeholder’s influence on a firm depends on the former’s power toinfluence the latter, the legitimacy of the stakeholder’s relationship, andthe urgency of the stakeholder’s issues vis-à-vis the firm. Further, stakeholders mobilize to emphasize individual or group identify and/or protectvested interests. Overlapping membership across relevant stakeholder groupsaffect degree of mobilization. The presence, absence, and intersection ofthese stakeholder attributes determine the degree of stakeholder salience.

Could the AAA Board and officers, its members, and those attending the AAA 2004conference have leveraged its stakeholder salience vis-à-vis the SF hotelworkers lock-out? The future will hold us, as individuals and anthropologists, accountable for how we acted when minority, migrant, and women workers practically asked for the institutional help of the anthropological community in their struggle to protect their rights to organize, secure living wages, and health benefits.

If the hotels could organize the SF Multi-Employer group and lock out theirhotel workers when one hotel went on strike, then why cannot hotel workersalign their collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) nationally? If hotel chains can organize themselves internationally, why can’t workers organize themselves nationally?

Hilton Hotels Corp. a publicly traded corporation (HLT) had revenues for thefirst six months of 2004 rising 9% to $2.06B, with net income rising 78% to $112M. It forecasts continued growth until 2010. Stephen F. Bollenback,Co-Chairman and CEO of Hilton earns $3.1 M a year with stock options of$34Million. Hilton’s President and COO, Mathew J. Hart, earns $1.12 Million a year with millions as well in stock options. They can well afford health insurance.

As I previously wrote, pressure should have been laid to bear on Hilton. Afterall, with an estimated 5,000 participants to the AAA conference, the AAA and the anthropological community, is a formidable sector. It has national and international scope. It has credibility and some form of influence.Anthropologists have families, friends, and relatives who they can also requestto support just living wages and benefits.

The AAA is an aggrieved party as the lock out compromises the integrity of theconference. Moving to a non-unionized hotel during the thick of a hotel labordispute that is becoming systemic nationwide sends the wrong message thatanthropologists, harbingers of society’s norms and actions, are insensitive to the plight of minority, women, and immigrant workers. A nuanced approach should have been undertaken before reaching a decision. This is not a "win-win" approach.

As Cristine Holmberg noted, anthropologists could have been “subversive” without AAA suffering a financial loss. For example, AAA could have clarifiedwith the Hilton what is the minimal usage allowed for it not to sue. The facilities could have been then turned over to labor organizers, activists, and anthropologists engaged with the labor sector to discuss the issues. Therented facilities could have been provided to activists and researchers to dotheir thing or even for press conferences, or debates and town hall meetingsbetween pro and anti lockout views. Paid for hotel rooms could have beenprovided to locked out workers, families who may be spending money shuttlingto and fro the “war zones”. SF will be chilly in November.

The AAA could have then pressured Hilton to agree to the transfer to San Jose using Hilton facilities. After all, the union agreed to the San Jose relocation proposal.

The AAA Board perceives a tight coupling between AAA and Hilton and otherconference sites. Hence it sees little room for strategizing. This tightcoupling should not have been set in the first place had human and labor rightsbeen in place in selecting conference sites. This tight coupling as represented by contracts should be loosened immediately.

Further, the silence of AAA, the Board and its officers, and the anthropology community (as an institution) on this hotel worker lock out is deafening.

The decision to move the conference to a non-unionized Hilton hotel in Atlanta shows how pervasive capital indeed is and how it can manipulate the temporal-spatial continuum.

MAKI BAKA! HUWAG MATAKOT! (Join the struggle! Do not be scared!).

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