The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association has declined a request to withdraw its annual convention from San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency Hotel this weekend in connection with a labor union boycott of the hotel.
In a statement posted on its website, NLGJA officials said a cancellation of its contract with the hotel, which was signed three years ago, would result in a $150,000 penalty that could bankrupt the group.
The San Francisco chapter of Pride at Work, an LGBT labor group affiliated with the AFL-CIO, joined the city’s hotel workers union, Unite Here! Local 2, in calling on NLGJA to honor the union-initiated boycott of the Hyatt in an effort to win a long-delayed union contract for hotel employees.
“Although NLGJA understands the importance of collective bargaining and recognizes that worker actions are not to be blithely ignored, it is simply impossible at this late date for us to move this year’s convention to another hotel,” NLGJA President David Steinberg said in a statement.
“NLGJA was contacted by organizers from Unite Here! Local 2 in June, and we have had conversations with them for more than a month,” the statement says.
About 225 people were expected to attend the NLGJA convention, which was scheduled to take place at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront district Sept. 2-5, according to NLGJA executive director Michael Tune.
Tune said the group knows of about 10 people who were scheduled to attend or speak at the convention and cancelled their attendance due to the union boycott.
“It’s been very positive,” he said. “I think most folks have understood it’s not an issue against NLGJA. This is something, of course, going on with the Hyatt. We happened to be having our convention here.”
NLGJA describes itself as the leading professional organization for LGBT journalists and an advocate for fair and accurate reporting on LGBT issues in the U.S. and abroad. Members of the organization include editors and reporters from some of the nation’s largest and most prominent news organizations, including the New York Times and broadcast news outlets as well as LGBT news organizations.
Although the hotel union has not called a strike against the San Francisco Hyatt, more than a month ago it scheduled a national, one-day protest against Hyatt hotels, including the San Francisco Hyatt, for Sept. 2. At the San Francisco Hyatt, union members and supporters were scheduled to form a picket line for the Sept. 2 action in support of the workers’ efforts to secure a union contract.
The picketing was set to take place on the opening day of the NLGJA convention, when the group was to hold its 7th Annual LGBT Media Summit for the gay press.
Gabriel Haaland, an official with the San Francisco chapter of Pride at Work, said representatives of the LGBT community were expected to participate in the picket and would urge people not to cross the picket line.
Haaland noted that a large number of LGBT groups and political leaders in San Francisco are supporting union boycotts of the Hyatt and other local hotels. Among them are gay city supervisors Tom Ammiano and Bevan Duffy and gay California State Senator Mark Leno. The city’s two leading LGBT political groups, the Harvey Milk Democratic Club and the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, are also supporting the boycott, according to literature released by the union.
According to Haaland, other organizations have cancelled contracts for conventions and meetings with San Francisco hotels targeted for union boycotts and have not been charged penalty fees such as the one NLGJA says it would face.
“I’ve seen groups break contracts with these hotels over boycotts before and they have never been charged a dime,” Haaland said. “More than one group has gone to the discomfort of moving their meetings because some of these folks are some of the lowest wage workers and, honestly, many of them are gay.”
Israel Alvaran, community outreach organizer for Unite Here! Local 2 and a member of Pride at Work said NLGJA would likely be faced with some added expenses for moving its convention to another hotel. But he said the union would have intervened to help NLGJA challenge a penalty fee from the Hyatt on grounds that the hotel most likely did not inform NLGJA of labor disputes and the possibility of a hotel boycott at the time the gay journalists group signed its contract with the hotel.
He noted that hotel labor disputes have been taking place in San Francisco for the past four years or longer.
“We’re disappointed that it never got to that point,” Alvaran said. “They never took the first step to look into moving the meeting.”
Although NLGA’s Steinberg and other members of the group’s board said they could not move the convention to another hotel, they urged attendees to consider reporting on the union’s grievances in their role as journalists.
“We can invite you to bring your notebooks, your recorders and your cameras to San Francisco and cover their action, along with the hotel’s response,” Steinberg said in a message posted on the NLGJA website.