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|2018 Annual Conference|
Westin Strike Ends
On Sunday, November 11th, striking workers at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp hotel voted to ratify a new contract thereby ending a 35-day strike. ASTR’s Executive Committee and the 2018 Program Chairs knew this was a possibility when we decided last week to cancel our contract with the Westin and cancel the 2018 annual conference. While we obviously wish this resolution had happened sooner, we believe cancelling was the right decision given the circumstances and facts at hand. Moreover, according to a union representative, standing beside workers by cancelling a hotel contract as we did makes a considerable difference to the union’s ability to negotiate for better wages, benefits, working conditions, and job security. You can read more about the specifics of the strike and final contract here: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/tourism/sd-fi-westin-hotel-strike-ends-20181111-story.html.
We are disappointed that the programming Kirsten Pullen, Christin Essin, and Chase Bringardner curated into Arousal: Theatre, Performance, Embodiment will not happen as originally planned. However, the many members and exhibitors who have expressed their support for our decision to cancel and, thus, their fervent support for fair labor, have made this decision a little bit easier. The 2018 Program Chairs and EC thank you for that support.
We will see some of you at Forum 2018 (La Jolla) this weekend and hopefully many, many more of you next November at ASTR’s 2019 conference.
A Note from the VP for Conferences
In our effort to serve a membership with varied needs related to the conference, we have inadvertently created confusion. The EC has cancelled ASTR’s contract with the Westin and has cancelled the 2018 conference as scheduled.
Daphne Lei, President, is currently reserving a few rooms on the UCSD campus for working sessions that still wish to meet and need space on Friday, November 16th or Saturday, November 17th. We don’t know how many, but we hope to serve all groups who request them. Some groups are meeting and have already found alternative meeting space elsewhere in San Diego. Kirsten Pullen is in communication with WS chairs to assess their needs.
Chase Bringardner is in communication with plenarists and curated panelists to see if they want to meet in San Diego or on electronic platforms to share their work with one another. We will not be able to reschedule these presentations. There will not be plenary papers or curated panels scheduled for next weekend.
Daphne and Patricia Herrera, the VP for Awards, are determining how best to honor this year’s awards recipients; they have not determined if there is an appropriate space for this or if it still makes sense to schedule an event.
I’m working with Sissi Liu, GSC President, to find space for the GSC to hold its meeting and social gathering if they wish to do so.
For those who need documentation of participation/attendance at a conference for their institution, we will provide this. We will explain the situation, indicate that an alternative forum was created for sharing work in the absence of a conference, and acknowledge the pre-conference scholarship work that many participants have already undertaken. We will aim to tailor documentation to individual needs as best we can given the very different requirements across institutions. For purposes of consistent documentation, we are calling next weekend’s event ASTR 2018 Forum (La Jolla).
We will create a refund policy and procedure by which people can request a full refund or select to donate part or all of their registration fee and receive a receipt of that donation for tax purposes. Even if you attend next weekend’s event, you may request a refund.
This is all we know about next weekend at this point. As the above plans develop, we will update the membership. I hope this clarifies how ASTR is moving ahead under difficult circumstances as we try to meet the needs of many different constituencies.
Dear Friends and Scholars,
We are immeasurably grateful for your overwhelming support for the Program Chairs (Chase Bringardner, Christin Essin, and Kirsten Pullen) and ASTR Executive Committee (Officers Daphne Lei, Jill Stevenson, Esther Kim Lee, Patricia Herrera, EJ Westlake, and Scott Magelssen and Members Rhonda Blair, Kate Bredeson, Debra Caplan, Chrystyna Dail, James Harding, Doug Jones, Rosemary Malague, Noe Montez, Elizabeth W. Son, and Sissi Liu) as we made the principled decision to not cross a picket line in order to hold our annual conference.
The strike between Unite Here Local 30 and the Westin San Diego Gaslamp has not resolved. ASTR President Daphne Lei and VP for Conferences Jill Stevenson and Ewald Consulting’s Briana Baker have been in close contact with representatives from Local 30 and the hotel over the last few days. We were initially hopeful that the strike would be equitably resolved by 5pm today, but after seventeen hours of continuous negotiation on Tuesday and Wednesday, the sides were not able to reach an agreement and will not reconvene until Saturday. We decided this morning to cancel our contract with the Westin Hotel.
We did not make this decision easily, of course. We weighed our commitments to the scholars—especially graduate students, international travelers, contingent faculty, and the untenured—who had already spent much time and money preparing for the conference against our commitments to equitable labor practices. We considered the long-term financial impact of cancelling the hotel contract, moving to another location, or staying at the Westin. We questioned our own motivations for these decisions and did our best to put the needs of our members and the organization first.
The Program Chairs and the ASTR EC Officers are working on next steps:
We were able to reserve some programming space at the UCSD (La Jolla) campus and will develop a schedule of events for Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17. At this point, we cannot say what we will be able to include in this schedule and in what format. We will announce this in the coming days; we are working as quickly as possible to coordinate these efforts and ask for your patience. We will also try to offer suggestions for alternate accommodations near the campus spaces. The Program Chairs will be in touch separately with working session coordinators, as well as plenarists and curated panel presenters.
If you have a room reserved at the Westin and no longer plan to stay there, please remember to cancel your reservation. If you do not cancel your reservation, please be advised that ASTR's reduced conference room rate will no longer apply. Please note that the Westin’s guest room cancellation policy stipulates that reservations should be cancelled three days in advance of the first night of stay in order to avoid a cancellation fee.
For those members still planning to come to San Diego, we will do our very best to provide many opportunities to share their scholarship, make new connections and establish old relationships, and celebrate the organization’s commitment to theatre and performance studies and to social justice. But because we have cancelled the contract with the Westin Gaslamp, this will be a conference without the programming we’ve come to expect (and certainly not the programming the Program Chairs envisioned). We won’t have receptions, or yoga, or AV, or a common space to socialize. We will not offer Field Conversations (and Paige McGinley and Gad Guterman had put together an especially exciting slate), or a Mentorship Breakfast. However, to honor and celebrate the original program and all the work behind it, we have posted a PDF of the full conference program on the conference website HERE. We ask—again—for your patience and flexibility as we make new plans on a very short schedule and with significant financial implications for this year and the future.
With gratitude and in solidarity,
Dear ASTR members,
Thank you for your patience as we (Program Chairs Chase Bringardner, Christin Essin, and Kirsten Pullen; ASTR VP for Conferences Jill Stevenson; ASTR President Daphne Lei and ASTR Treasurer EJ Westlake; and Mei Li Brown, Laurie Krueger and Briana Baker from Ewald) continue to explore our options for ASTR 2018: Arousal—Theatre, Performance, and Embodiment. We have been in regular contact with both Unite Here and Westin representatives, and the news there is quite hopeful. Both sides believe there is a strong possibility that the strike will be resolved in the next three days.
We have also tried to find an alternative hotel. We are not able to find a hotel that can host the conference, provide rooms for attendees, and give us even a baseline level of service. We simply do not have enough time to make a new plan that will allow us to hold a conference and to communicate that plan to you. Despite our very strong efforts and our absolute will to find an alternative, we cannot move the conference.
Today, we decided to move forward in good faith that the strike will be resolved. Please keep that faith with us, and please continue to plan to join us in San Diego. As soon as we hear from Unite Here and the Westin, we will let you know. If the strike is not resolved by 5pm Thursday, we will cancel the conference. At that point, we will give you information about your registration as well as some options for those who decide to come and celebrate each other and share scholarship even without the conference, or those who might want to meet virtually. The ASTR Executive Committee will assist as much as they are able with these arrangements.
We have all appreciated the many expressions of support and concern that you’ve offered. We are also aware that this is stressful, disappointing, and difficult for all of you. We are moving forward buoyed by your faith in us, in ASTR, and in fair labor practices.
With gratitude and in solidarity –
ASTR’s 2018 Program Chairs (Kirsten Pullen, Christin Essin, and Chase Bringardner), the Vice President for Conferences, Executive Committee, and Ewald staff have worked very hard this week to determine the best course of action for our 2018 annual conference. At present, the strike is still in effect at the Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter hotel and negotiations are continuing between the union representatives at the 23 hotels striking and Marriott’s management. We have been in touch with both the hotel management and the union throughout the week, with calls every other day to update us on progress and changes in the negotiations. As of our conversations yesterday afternoon, neither side believes negotiations will conclude in the coming days.
ASTR’s leadership is still committed to supporting the workers by not crossing the picket line to hold the conference. Many of you have sent us messages over the last week supporting this choice, while also acknowledging the difficulties this poses both financially and logistically. At this time, we are still committed to holding the conference if we can find an alternative venue that allows us to retain most of our programming. Although we may accomplish this differently than in previous years, we aim to find a space that would allow us to achieve the fundamental goal of our conference—to share our scholarship, hear the latest work in our field, and acknowledge those who have received awards from the Society.
Briana Baker and Laurie Krueger, Ewald staff members, are in close communication with the few available hotels that may suit our needs. In addition to space considerations, our selection has focused on union hotels that are close to downtown and the airport, and that offer a room rate at the same price or slightly lower than the Westin rate. We will not hold the conference in a hotel that has a higher room rate. The hotels we are considering are also near a variety of food options. Although our choices are limited, we remain committed to certain priorities that ease the financial burden of attending the conference.
Typically, contract negotiations with hotels take many weeks and even months to finalize; we are asking Briana and Laurie to accomplish this task in a manner of days. In addition, none of the few hotels available fully meet our needs. Therefore, Briana will work closely with Jill Stevenson, VP for Conferences, as well as Christin, Chase, and Kirsten to assess options carefully and determine if we can find a space that meets enough of our needs to move ahead.
We will know by Wednesday, November 7th at the very latest if we have an alternative venue. As soon as we know, we will announce all the necessary information needed to change your lodging plans. If we cannot find a venue that suits our minimum needs, we will cancel the conference. We have not broken our contract with the Westin in case the labor negotiations resolve before we contract with another hotel; therefore, please do not cancel your Westin room reservations at this time.
On a two-hour conference call last night, the EC, Program Chairs, and Ewald discussed at length the implications of moving the conference at this late date. These include logistical complications, but also the tremendous additional labor this will require of the Program Chairs, staff, and VP for Conferences. There are also financial implications for the organization; our Treasurer, E.J. Westlake, made those plain to the group. Against these we weighed the labor that has already gone into planning, the work of members to prepare for the conference, and the financial commitment attendees have already made with respect to travel and visas. None of the available options are ideal and all have a cost. In consultation with the Program Chairs, the EC voted to move ahead with the plan outlined above.
Moving our conference to another space at this late date will inevitably result in some shifts in the schedule, cancellations of certain elements, and—inevitably—mistakes during the conference. We will make every effort to run a smooth conference, but more than ever we will need your support, flexibility, and understanding. A change like this gives us a chance to return to core priorities and to remember what our conference, no matter the city or theme, always truly offers—the chance to see one another and socialize, to learn about new work in the field, to offer and receive mentorship, and to receive thoughtful feedback and honors for our scholarship. If we move to another hotel, those priorities will guide our work.
We hope you remain excited to attend the conference in whatever form it takes and to join us as we make choices that reaffirm our values, celebrate our work, and create community. We ask for your patience as Briana, Jill, Kirsten, Chase, and Christin devote the next few days to researching space for the conference.
If you have any concerns or inquiries, please send them directly to me. Thank you all!
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:
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,