The Executive Officers Column
Annual Meeting Venues Past, Present, and Future
By all accounts, the Montréal Annual Meeting was a great
success, thanks to the hard work of Cynthia Fuchs Epstein and
the 2006 Program Committee, and the splendid venues and
hospitality provided by the Montréal convention bureau, the
hotels and their staff. Preparation for this meeting had its dif-
ficult moments, however, as the ASA membership knows. It took
over a year for Council, the Executive Office, and the Program
Committee to ensure an appropriate location, and our 2006 planning
process took us from New York City to San Francisco and
finally to Montréal.
Playing musical meeting places is not typical for the ASA.
Meetings of our size require much forward planning and advantageous long-term
contracts for space to ensure their success, and ASA has been exceptionally well served
in this regard by the strong working relationships we have developed with our longstanding
hotel partners. In the past, these collaborative relationships have also been
essential to ASA’s ability on rare but important occasions to make swift and successful
changes in meeting location, for example, as a result of an electrical fire (DC 1995) and
civil rights decisions by Council (Atlanta 1980). And these relationships remain essential
today as the Association seeks to respond to a new, positive environment in the hospitality
industry, one in which labor unions have become greatly invigorated and collective
bargaining has become increasingly national in scope.
New Challenges in the Hospitality Industry
In recent months there has been an on-going discussion within Council about how
the Association might best relate to labor unions whose members provide us with
important services that help make
our meetings successful and whose
conditions of employment matter on
general principle to all ASA members.
As a result, ASA elected leaders, the
Executive Officer, and the Director of
Operations and Meetings have met
and talked with union leaders from UniteHere,
the major hotel workers union, as the hospitality
industry has been undergoing change, and we have developed a good working relationship
with them. Early in its discussions, Council also agreed that, in principle, the ASA
should seek to participate in collaborative efforts by organizations such as ours that
are major consumers of the hotel and convention industry’s services to develop quality
information and standards to guide our individual decision processes over the long run.
During this time, the union and individual members of nonprofit organizations that
use substantial hotel space and services for meetings, including members of ASA and
sister social science associations, have been working to establish an independent organization
designed to provide and share information relevant to organizational consumers.
The Informed Meeting Exchange (INMEX) was established in June 2006 as a nonprofit
mutual benefit corporation [a (501(c)(6) organization under IRS classification], chaired
by John Stephens, Executive Director of the American Studies Association. It is based
upon the recognition that nonprofit organizations in many fields are key stakeholders
in the meetings industry; that they want to conduct successful meetings in environments
free from the threat of labor disputes; that transparency in this industry is a major
component in holding successful meetings and conventions; and that access to information
about destination cities, hotels, and union activities is essential to better planning.
INMEX is also based upon the principles that hotel workers deserve fair pay for their
work, and that they have a right to work in environments free from discrimination,
intimidation and harassment, and to bargain collectively.
ASA Joins the Informed Meeting Exchange
After considerable discussion and fact finding, the ASA Council voted unanimously
in June 2006 to become a subscribing member of the new INMEX. INMEX will aim to
help associations organize annual meetings to avoid situations of labor-management
conflict that have caused several of our sister associations to face significant financial
losses because of decisions to change meeting venues at a late date. It intends to collect
information and data about subscriber experience and relationships with various hotel
chains, cities, etc., so that subscribers can have the benefit of wider experience and be
familiar with best practices in the marketplace. Council felt such information could be
a valuable resource for the Executive Office and Council as we work together to ensure
successful future meetings.
As ASA President Frances Fox Piven said, This initiative is based on the idea that
in the hotel industry, as in other industries, employers currently face a choice between
a low-road strategy and a high-road strategy. The first—often driven by short-term
financial considerations—rests on weakening unions and driving wages down, while
the latter involves cooperative relations with unions and upgrading of employee skill
levels and compensation. The purpose of INMEX is to exert consumer pressure on this
industry to follow the high road. Since some key players in this industry have already
opted for the high road, it is clearly a viable option. It is consistent with the interests
of ASA as an organization and the preferences of our members to do what we can to
prevent yet another industry from following a low-road strategy. We suspect that many
of the staffers at the hotel chains that we work with also hope that the industry chooses
more cooperative labor relations.
As the ASA moves forward to complete its planning for the 2007 Annual Meeting
in New York City, this expectation is being fulfilled. The city’s hotels and hotel workers
union have reached contract agreements. This is a fitting beginning for President
Piven’s 2007 theme: Is Another World Possible? Sociological Perspectives on
Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer