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June 17, 2010

in a labor dispute

Many friends and I are converging on Providence, RI for the annual American Democracy Project conference. It is in the Westin Hotel, which is subject to a union boycott. Unite Here called a boycott when the hotel cut salaries and raised health care premiums. Just last week, the Westin laid off 50 workers, who will be replaced with contractors. The boycott has a Facebook page that you can visit.

The union is understandably calling for ADP to join the boycott. According to an email that I have received with identical text from 18 different individuals (so far), "The American Democracy Project is supposed to promote democracy, but patronizing this hotel supports the Westin Providence's violations of democratic rights. Please boycott this hotel and please do not cross the union picketlines there."

The problem, however, is that canceling the hotel contract would cost ADP so much money that I believe the organization would die. A boycott, as opposed to a strike, does not release ADP from their legal obligations to pay the hotel. And ADP is a small, scrappy, nonprofit outfit that serves public colleges and universities, with a strong emphasis on low-budget, non-selective institutions.

I have therefore decided to stick with the conference, although I am minimizing my own payments to the Westin. I will attend the union's teach-in and rally, but I will also enter the hotel for several sessions, including a plenary discussion on Friday morning about how to address issues like this one. Indeed, I will moderate that plenary. I plan to encourage participants to think about what we should do in the future.

This has been a tough call, and all of us are complicit--whether we patronize a hotel that exploits its workers or potentially kill an important nonprofit. I may have made the wrong decision, or there may not be a right one. I believe that all our work in democracy education is serious business. We do not just discuss, observe, and study institutions and teach young people to do the same. We populate, fund, profit from, and run institutions that regularly make and break human lives. Without taking ourselves overly seriously or giving ourselves too much credit, we need to recognize the heavy responsibilities we bear.

June 17, 2010 11:01 AM | category: none



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