IMPORTANT News About Conference
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
October 24, 2018
Please bear with me for this long letter. I ask for your patience and understanding as the Society is doing our best to handle an ongoing situation that impacts our upcoming 2018 conference.
As some of you might have heard, the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, the venue of our annual conference in San Diego, is in the midst of a strike negotiation with hotel union workers. This is part of the much larger strike against the Marriott chain (which the Westin is under) in eight cities, and the workers are asking for better pay and better working conditions. You can find more detailed information on the strike through this article.
You can also visit the Unite Here! website to learn more about the organizing and ways to support these efforts: http://unitehere.org.
The ASTR leadership has been monitoring the situation closely since the Westin workers joined the strike on October 8th. Yesterday I conducted an emergency conference call meeting with the Executive Committee and 2018 Program Chairs (Kirsten Pullen, Christin Essin, and Chase Bringardner). Based upon that call, we would like to update the membership about the current situation in order to be as transparent as possible about our decision making process.
ASTR is an organization that highly values intellectual integrity and social justice. Accordingly, the leadership agrees that we will not hold a conference that requires attendees to cross the picket line. Since negotiations between the union and hotel management are ongoing, I will share the steps we have taken and will continue to take in order to make informed decisions about how ASTR should adjust conference planning:
- We have paid close attention to the situation and Ewald staff has spoken to the hotel manager daily in order to get updates on who is involved in the negotiations and what progress, if any, has been made. The Program Chairs and VP for Conferences have been receiving regular updates, as will the EC going forward. Ewald is committed to preserving ASTR's integrity as an organization and protecting its financial interests.
- We have tried to communicate directly with the union (Unite Here!), both to express our support and to receive updates about the negotiations from the perspective of the union. We will redouble these efforts through multiple channels.
- Once we learned about the strike, we were able to negotiate an extension until November 2nd for those contracts we still had not signed, such as for hotel AV and program printing. We also identified a local printer in San Diego to use, which gives us more flexibility on program printing. These decisions were made to help minimize potential financial losses for the organization.
- We are actively exploring space availability at local San Diego academic institutions as alternative venues and researching accommodations in the surrounding area.
- We are actively researching other hotels in the city that can accommodate our conference, both with respect to programming and accommodations, at this late date.
- We are conducting a comprehensive assessment of the financial impact of various options, including cancelling our contract with the Westin, moving the conference to an alternative venue, etc. We are well aware that such an assessment needs to consider both the organizational and personal impact of our decisions.
It is impossible to know when the negotiations will conclude; therefore, on our call yesterday the EC decided to redouble all of these efforts for the next week and to hold a second emergency phone meeting next Thursday, November 1st if the strike is still active. At that point we will assess our research into alternative spaces and the organization’s finances to determine if we can viably move the conference to another venue at this late date. We will then announce a decision about whether or not we will hold the conference at another venue on Friday, November 2nd.
I am really grateful for your continuous support of ASTR and your faith in the leadership. I am so excited to learn that, as of today, we have record-high registration numbers and I sincerely hope that a resolution can be reached very soon to enable us to gather together and share our research. The Program Chairs and the VP for Conferences have been working tirelessly for an entire year to plan this year’s conference and I know that many of you have been a part of those efforts. At this moment, I implore you to be patient with us as we work over the next week to make an informed decision about our next steps. If the strike ends, we will immediately update you about that news. Otherwise, you will hear from me on November 2nd about whether we will be able to move the conference elsewhere.
Once again, please be patient and stay with us. We are all in this together!
Thank you all!
Peace and Love,
President, American Society for Theatre Research