Written by Connie Larkman
General Synod delegates and visitors may have to build in a little more daily travel time to and from hotels and the Long Beach Convention Center this week, because General Synod is standing with a group of union hotel workers, honoring their boycott of the Hilton and the Hyatt hotels.
"Standing with the hotel workers, and honoring the boycott at these two hotels in Long Beach is an easy decision,"said W. Mark Clark, General Synod administrator. "The United Church of Christ has a long history of supporting the rights and upholding the dignity of all workers, and while it's unfortunate that this situation has dragged on for so long, we are glad to be able to take this small stand for justice during our time in Long Beach."
The issue first came to light in the summer of 2009, when Edith Guffey, then-Associate General Minister of the UCC, learned that issues over working conditions had created conflict between workers and management at the Hilton Long Beach. At the time, the Hilton was one of the key General Synod 2013 hotels. Guffey sent a letter to the hotel and the union encouraging them to resolve their differences and reminding them that the General Synod strongly supports workers' rights and has a history of cancelling contracts with hotels experiencing labor disputes.
At about this same time, because of problems cited by workers at multiple hotels within the Hyatt chain, Hyatt employees called a global boycott of most Hyatt hotels. The boycott included the Hyatt Regency Long Beach, another of the General Synod's key hotels.
In 2012, as the hotel boycotts continued, Clark decided to exercise a clause in the contracts with the Hilton and Hyatt hotels that allowed the UCC to withdraw, without penalty, if it appeared a labor dispute would be occurring during the time of General Synod. The UCC Meeting Service staff then had to scramble to find alternative hotels that, unfortunately, were a bit further away from the Long Beach Convention Center. As UCC members head to California, the Hilton boycott continues. The boycott of the Hyatt has ended (although a new labor agreement has still not been signed).
"Our call to support low-wage workers outweighs the unfortunate inconvenience of a bus ride from the more distant hotels,"said Clark, "but there's a pretty solid shuttle schedule in place, which we hope makes getting from place to place pretty simple.”
This is not the first time the UCC General Synod has moved its venue to support workers involved in a labor dispute. In 2007, during the denomination's 50th anniversary celebration, the General Synod planning committee made the decision to change both the convention center and the main hotel In Hartford, Conn., to avoid using facilities where workers and management were in the midst of a labor dispute. That year, General Synod met in the older Hartford Civic Center, not the newly completed Adriane's Landing Convention Center.
On numerous occasions the General Synod has expressed its belief that the United Church of Christ is called to support the rights and uphold the dignity of all workers, especially low-wage workers.
In 2005 in "For the Common Good," General Synod 25 resolved that the UCC will "do justice and promote the common good by working actively to ensure full employment, dignity on the job, living wages, and sufficient income for everyone."
General Synod has also spoken specifically in support of farm workers (2001, 1999), hog processors (2007), coal miners (1993), and employees in all settings of the UCC (1995, 1997, 2005).
For more information about the struggles of hotel workers and the UCC's response, see JWM's Justice for Hotel Workers webpage.