The union representing thousands of hotel workers on strike in Los Angeles is clashing with a group of political scientists over a request to move its gathering out of the city. It has sparked tensions within the professional group, as members – experts in power and politics – are dissenting over how they ought to respond.
About 6,000 political scientists were to descend on downtown Los Angeles for days of paper reviews, networking events and off-site happy hours at their flagship annual convention by the American Political Science Association (APSA) in late August. It would be the largest conference happening in the city over Labor Day weekend, according to the union.
The city has essentially become a picket line. Thousands of unionized southern California hotel workers have been on strike, demanding higher wages and better benefits, since the beginning of July. They joined Hollywood writers and actors occupying streets in a separate part of the city, many of whom have been striking since May.
After the union asked the organization to cancel its event, originally planned for the downtown JW Marriott Los Angeles LA Live, a hotel with its workers on strike, in mid-July, the group’s executive council voted overwhelmingly, 19-4, to keep the convention in Los Angeles while moving in-person events to the convention center down the street.
Responding to a second letter requesting the move, the group said: “We want to be clear that we are in compliance with this request. We are holding all our events at the [Los Angeles convention center], which does not have a labor dispute,” according to a statement by the organization’s presidents.
Members of the political science association – including tenured professors, junior faculty and graduate students – criticized the leadership’s response.
Leaders of the association’s Latino caucus said they are “withdrawing” from this year’s annual conference “in solidarity with the union and hotel workers”. About one in 15 of the association’s members identify as “Latino or Hispanic American”, whereas around two out of three identify as “non-Hispanic White or Euro-American”, according to membership data as of August 2022.
“We continue to stand in solidarity with the heavily Latina and immigrant hotel workers of Los Angeles and southern California,” said a statement posted to Twitter, now called X.
Others also flocked to the platform to express their frustration, saying the decision to keep the meeting in Los Angeles leaves members in the lurch.
“Just the idea of trying to find someplace else is overwhelming,” said Lindsay Mayka, the chair of Latin American studies at Colby College, who is choosing to skip this year’s conference because the hotel she had originally booked is on strike and she does not support the event. “It’s kind of being presented as, you know, everyone has to do what’s right for themselves.”
Maria Hernandez, a spokesperson for the union, told the Guardian it contacted “hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals” and confirmed the political science group was the largest it asked to cancel.
“The meeting is going to be a disaster, I would argue,” said Kurt Petersen, a co-president of Unite Here 11. “It is going to be very unpleasant for their membership.”
Petersen said he is hopeful workers will reach an agreement with hotel management by Labor Day weekend but that a settlement is by no means guaranteed.
“The association has tremendous leverage. Conventions are sought after in this world. They are coveted by cities,” said Petersen. “They’re the client. They have the power.”
The APSA did not respond to several requests for comment by time of publication.
Individual members have since announced they are withdrawing from the conference, and one member, Lauren Konken, a recent doctoral student at Princeton University, is organizing an alternative conference for people to present papers and receive reviews.
“I guess there’s some irony in the fact that we all study politics, and we study power dynamics,” said Candis Smith, a professor of political science at Duke University. “I can see why many people would perceive that access leadership is not paying attention to the research of its members.”
But Smith, who said she will not be flying to Los Angeles but will attend panels and meetings online, does not think the group’s leadership is doing anything with malicious intent.
“I think that people try to balance what they think is right for the membership, try to balance what they think is right for labor and try to balance what is right for the institution itself for it to, you know, continue on,” she said. “These clash sometimes.”
In a previous statement posted online, the APSA said its president and executive director have been “engaged in intense conversations with both the union and hotel management” and that the union had offered to help it relocate. It also honored requests for attendees to move events online.
“You’re either in or you’re not,” said Petersen. “And unfortunately they have denied the request that we have made to them.”