How APSA planners moved 1,500 sessions to makeshift spaces and created virtual panels in less than a month

The 119th American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual Meeting & Exhibition of thousands of students and academics starting today in Los Angeles has dramatically changed its plans in light of hotel worker strikes at Southern California hotels. APSA’s “Rights and Responsibilities in an Age of Mis- and Disinformation” themed gathering was expected to draw 6,000 people and run through Sept. 3, however, many canceled their plans and venues were moved after a July 19 letter from Unite Here Local 11 to APSA Executive Director Steven Rathgeb Smith called for the group to cancel or relocate their event.

The letter, sent on behalf of the 15,000 Unite Here Local 11 members who work in Los Angeles area hotels, said members, “want to provide excellent guest service to your group, but that the hotel’s greed forces them to make another sacrifice for the greater good…We believe that unless the hotel industry shares its historic profits, we may soon have no option but to call a boycott of the City of Los Angeles.”

The letter called boycotting a powerful tool and cited improvements at Chateau Marmont in 2022 that ended after years of protests, lawsuits and canceled events by the Democratic Governors Association and Japanese American Citizens League.

Read More: Hospitality Strike Votes Could Increase with Arrival of High-tech Hotels

The Union has been in negotiations since April with wages and benefits as the primary sticking point with workers at 40 hotels on strike, one of the largest strikes in recent history. Rising housing prices were cited as one of the reasons it is difficult for employees to live in the city where they work.

A Quick Switch

APSA moved all in-person events from JW Marriott Los Angeles LA LIVE to Los Angeles Convention Center, which is not being picketed. The 1,500 events over four days with 80 concurrent sessions had to be reconfigured in non-traditional breakout space using pipe and drape with projectors and makeshift screens to accommodate all the AV specified before the 30-day move-in deadline. “We understand that this is not ideal space, but our goal is to still allow groups to meet where presenters and attendees would not have to cross picket lines,” according to a logistics post on the APSA website.

A new mechanism will allow panels to move online. The group looked for additional hotel rooms in hotels that are not in the midst of a labor dispute.

Read More: Convention Center Labor Disputes

An Aug. 18 letter to APSA members and meeting participants from APSA President Lisa Martin and APSA President-Elect Mark E. Warren said, “Some attendees may have reservations in hotels that are subject to potential picket lines. Please check the planning page for a list of these hotels, as well as those that are not subject to union activity. Individual members are responsible for arranging their own accommodations and changing them if they desire to do so.”

It went on to explain the adjustments meeting planners had made. “In the matter of just a few short weeks, APSA staff accomplished the unprecedented task of relocating hundreds of panels and other events out of the J.W. Marriott, as UNITE HERE Local 11 requested at the end of their July 19 letter. This letter did not specify that the union was requesting relocation out of the city of Los Angeles, simply relocation. Moving to an entirely online format in such a short time was not possible. Cancellation would have cost many of our members, especially those at vulnerable career stages, the opportunity to showcase their work and to network. It would have also cost our organization millions of dollars in cancellation fees for non-struck venues, returned registration fees, and payments to vendors other than hotels.” Costs were estimated at $2.8 million at a minimum, a quarter of APSA’s annual operating budget. “They would have led to staff layoffs and undermined basic services and functions,” the letter stated.

APSA said on its website that it is standing with labor, consistent with its long-standing policy of siting its annual meetings in union venues. “APSA leadership has made concerted efforts to communicate with both management and labor and has been involved in intense and ongoing discussions with the management of the J.W. Marriott hotel, the national Marriott office, and with union representatives. These negotiations are a fluid situation that changes daily. We have also had extensive internal discussions on paths forward.”

The letter ended by saying, “We are working to learn from this experience so that it is not repeated in the future.”