September 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay journalists to face union picket line

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • It’s quite unfortunate that the NLGJA is trying to encourage the journalists to make a “story” out of this. What a way to exploit the workers struggle. Especially when UniteHERE! has taken such a strong stance in supporting the LGBTQ community by including transgender protection clauses, domestic partnership benefits, and a HIV/AIDS fund for poz workers to help pay for any extra medical needs. This is also after they have donated a lot of money to the No on 8 campaign, and educated their workers to vote No as well.

    If the LGBTQ community continues to fail at showing solidarity with other struggles- we’re going to see the road to equality take a lot longer.

  • I was raised in a union family. I do not cross picket lines. I’m tired with the lack of class consciousness on the part of so many professional gay and lesbian organizations who are always looking for support on the part of progressive people and who are quick to condemn the smallest slight on the part of the Democratic Party.

    Yet turn around and strike break by crossing union picket lines thereby showing their utter contempt towards their fellow workers.

    Stupid, stupid move.

  • This is ridiculous. As a former Unite Here staffer and a gay man, I find this offensive beyond comprehension.

  • I say bust the picket line. Unions do nothing for gays and coalition politics simply complicate our mission. I am a conservative anti union gay and applaud this group for standing up to labor bully tactics. Remember, they are all making a lot more money than we are, have better job security and insane pension and health benefits. We should be protesting them for stealing our tax money to live like kings while we in the private sector suffer.

    • That;s your problem there, you are like a black member of the KKK; you have gone to bed with the one group that, if left to their own devices would legislate you out of existence while at the same time taking your vote and your money happily.

    • Hotel housekeepers make more money than professional journalists?
      I’d love to live in your world.

      • Banquet Employees, you know the ones, who serve you food at Human Rights Campaign Dinners, make upwards of 100K a year in wages and gratuities in big cities like DC, New York, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco while working an average of 25 hours a week. I am sure a lot of folks would love that pay and schedule.

  • Alexa,

    You must have had too much Kool-Aid at the Beck/Palin rally. Organized labor has been a true ally of the gay community in our fight for equality. NLGJA should have moved the conference to show support for these workers in their struggle for economic justice.

  • It is quite outrageous that the unions are effectively demanding that NLGJA bankrupt itself. This is their idea of winning friends and influencing people? There also wasn’t time to change the venue. The unions need to learn that respect is a two-way street, and that dealing with reality is a requirement, and not a nice-to-have. If they can’t respect the situation NLGJA is in, and want to hide behind the phony claim that they could have gotten the hotel to set aside the penalties and magically found a last-minute alternative, then they are not being honest. To hell with them.

    • You are an idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about what it is like to work for a living. The people involved in this job action against Hyatt are low-paid, unskilled workers (chambermaids, cooks, bellhops, etc.) who are trying to scrape by during tremendously difficult times. They are asking for better working conditions and better pay. When idiots like you and the members of NGLJA cross their picket line, you are lending a helping hand to Hyatt in their attempt to break the union. Walk a mile in the workers’ shoes, Mr. Rosendall, and then let’s hear how you feel about unions.

      • Mr. Reuther, try re-reading what I actually wrote. NLGJA could not have changed venues at such a late date without bankrupting themselves. You are lying if you say that is a reasonable thing for the unions to expect. If you refuse to deal with reality even minimally, then you are saying in effect that you’d rather lose to preserve your griping rights.

        I’m not sure why disagreeing with you is a sign that I don’t work for a living. As a matter of fact, I am a union member myself–AFGE Local 12. But I did not turn my brain in when I signed up. If the plight of the workers is so dire, then the unions should be more constructive than to demand that NLGJA bankrupt itself to show its support.

      • BTW, I am signing my actual name, as opposed to someone who hides behind the name of a dead labor leader.

        • I find it ironic that the Union that is suppose to represent the interests of the workers is actively working to force their membership onto unemployment lines with their boycott. Had NLGJA cancelled not only would the Hotel pockets $150,000 in cancellation fees and would have saved over $10,000 in labor costs since the Room Attendants, Bell Attendants, Cooks and Banquet Personnel would have been on LAY OFF instead of working. For every Hotel worker who has a full schedule, thank your employer. For every hotel worker on unemployment and barely making ends meet, thank your Union and their boycott and fool hardy actions like this.

          Additionally, get the terms right, Chambermaids, Bell Hops are derogitory terms. Room Attendant and Bell Person is correct.

      • Walter,

        For someone who is insterested in class equality, sexist and derogatory terms such as “Chambermaid” and “Bell Hop” show how behind the times you are.

        Not even a “mean greedy” Hotel Owner uses such terms.

  • Oh I would never walk across a picket line
    Solidarity forever don’t mean just sometimes
    So long live the union!
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    If I should ever walk across a picket line

    Well my mother never told me what was right or what was wrong
    She never taught me to play guitar, never taught me to write songs
    But one thing that she taught me I’ll remember for all time
    And that’s that you should never walk across a picket line

    Oh I would never walk across a picket line
    Solidarity forever don’t mean just sometimes
    So long live the union!
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    If I should ever walk across a picket line

    She took me to a factory where the workers were on strike
    The company had called in scabs to break the union’s might
    My mum went to the front and addressed those greedy swine
    Sayin’ “I dare any of you men to walk across this picket line!”

    Oh I would never walk across a picket line
    Solidarity forever don’t mean just sometimes
    So long live the union!
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    If I should ever walk across a picket line

    Well one of them came forward and he had something to say:
    “No woman will stand between me and one day’s pay!
    I don’t care ’bout the others I am taking what is mine”
    And with that he tried to walk across our picket line

    Oh I would never walk across a picket line
    Solidarity forever don’t mean just sometimes
    So long live the union!
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    If I should ever walk across a picket line

    Mom called him a dirty scab, gave him two pieces of her mind
    She picked up and she threw every rock that she could find
    And when he called the cops on her she kicked his behind
    Sayin’ “that’s what you get when you walk across a union’s picket line!”

    Oh I would never walk across a picket line
    Solidarity forever don’t mean just sometimes
    So long live the union!
    Cross my heart and hope to die
    If I should ever walk across a picket line

    Well to this day I can remember what my momma used to say:
    “We’re fighting for a better world, not just for better pay
    And if we stick together then we’ll win this fight in time
    So long as we don’t walk across each other’s picket lines”

  • How to ensure that when the right wing get there assault on gay rights underway, that the gays have no friends.

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