AHA defends itself from criticism from gay and labor groups

Historians in the News

The American Historical Association has recently received several inquiries from members and others about its upcoming annual meeting in San Diego, which will be co-headquartered at the Manchester Grand Hyatt and the San Diego Marriott hotels.  Most inquiries have been prompted by a recent letter to history departments from San Diego Unite Here Local 30.  This message calls for a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt because its owner Douglas Manchester supported Proposition 8, the referendum prohibiting same-sex marriage approved by California voters in November 2008.  We very much understand members’ concerns and write now to explain the Association’s position on this issue and to correct points of misinformation made by the union representative.

AHA Procedures and the Boycott Vote

The Unite Here letter falsely charges that AHA executive director “Arnita Jones circumvented a proposed resolution signed by hundreds of AHA members to relocate the 2010 meeting.”  In fact, a Unite Here representative, who joined the AHA on October 24 shortly before the November 1 deadline, submitted a resolution that the AHA honor a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt called for by Unite Here and four other groups.  Although the proposed resolution was submitted with fewer than the constitutionally required 50 AHA member signatures, the author was advised of this deficiency and given the opportunity to collect the necessary signatures so that the resolution could be placed on the Business Meeting agenda and debated.  The resolution was duly published in Perspectives on History in advance of the meeting and was posted on the AHA’s web site.  The boycott resolution was resoundingly defeated, however, and an alternative motion offered from the floor by Council members Barbara Weinstein and Teofilo Ruiz was accepted.   For a copy of the final resolution, see http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2009/0904/0904aha2.cfm.

The accepted resolution offers an alternative response to Proposition 8 by calling for programming at the San Diego meeting that will offer historical perspectives on same-sex marriage.  A mini-conference within the larger program will highlight scholarly findings that should increase public understanding of the complexity and fluidity of marriage practices across time and place. The AHA intends to widely publicize these sessions and to open them to the public. We believe this programming will represent a significant contribution to the marriage equality debate.

To summarize, the decision to provide an alternative response to the Hyatt owner’s support for Proposition 8 was a democratic one, made in complete accordance with the AHA’s rules of governance.

AHA’S Financial Exposure

Unite Here’s letter refers to the “possible cancellation fee” AHA would have paid had the Council voted to withdraw from the Hyatt.  There is nothing theoretical about this fee.  Had we cancelled, AHA would have been contractually obliged to pay $611,000, thus enriching the person Unite Here supposedly seeks to punish, the owner of the Manchester Hyatt, Doug Manchester.  Beyond the cancellation fee, the AHA would also lose at least $180,000 in special concessions negotiated into the existing contract agreement when it was signed in 2003.

The Business Meeting and the Council decided in a democratic process that AHA would not break its contract, and thus forfeit nearly $800,000 of Association resources to protest a political action taken by one person.

Labor Practices

The Unite Here letter also implies that Manchester Hyatt staff are treated unfairly.  It offers no evidence for that claim other than an allusion to 2006 lunch-hour protests by non-union housekeepers, and to the best of our knowledge that dispute was settled. Unite Here did not then and does not now represent workers at the Manchester and is not currently engaged in organizing them.  AHA members should know that our contract with the hotel states:  “Hotel warrants and represents that it has had no unfair labor practice charge or complaint pending or threatened against it.” We are continuing to monitor the situation and will hold the Manchester Hyatt accountable for this clause.  The bottom line here is that AHA cannot sue a hotel for breach of contract because of hearsay.  While there may be informational pickets or demonstrators in the vicinity of the hotel, these will not constitute a picket line because there is no strike and there is no organizing effort.  We will keep you informed by e-mail and in our bimonthly E-newsletter, Fortnightly News of any changes.

We welcome debate on these issues and scrutiny of our actions, but also wish to communicate with members our belief that AHA has acted appropriately, sensitively and with high regard to its fiduciary duty in the matters raised by Unite Here.

Please disseminate this statement, let us know your thoughts, and join us at the AHA meeting in San Diego.

Executive Committee
American Historical Association


Related Links

  • HNN News Story: It's official: AHA will make an issue of gay marriage at its San Diego meeting (Jan. 2009)

  • HNN News Story: AHA Members Back Move to Embarrass but Not Boycott Anti-Gay Hotel Owner at Next Convention (January 2009)

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    More Comments:

    Jonny Bb - 9/22/2009

    I am sure that as historians you will recall that all groups in the past, yours is no different.... always seemed to come up with an excuse for it's behavior. I do not need to give examples, just this last observation: at least your excuse was not "sorry, we were just following orders" Yours was far more acceptable, it was for the money !