Friday, March 4, 2011

The Society of Biblical Literature and Unions

As a member of SBL, I received in my in box today the following letter. Initially I just deleted it, but then thought I really should reply to it.
Friday, March 4, 2011

Dear SBL Members and Annual Meeting Participants,

We write today for two reasons. First, we want to share our excitement about our upcoming Annual Meeting inSan Francisco. This meeting marks an important moment in our history, as we resume holding concurrent Annual Meetings with the American Academy of Religion and several other affiliated and related organizations. These concurrent gatherings will maintain the “traditional” meeting dates – the weekend before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, this year November 19-22. The Call for Papers has been issued, proposals are being submitted, special sessions planned, the layouts of the Exhibit Hall and Employment Center are being finalized, and registration is soon to open. At this point, it looks to be not only another excellent Annual Meeting but a momentous one.

Second, we want to share some information about one of the hotels selected six years ago for our meeting. The labor contract between the hotel workers at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square as well as a number of other San Francisco hotels lapsed in August of 2009, and they are in the process of negotiating a new agreement. While the negotiations are pending, the hotel staff, represented by Unite Here, continue to work under the terms of the expired agreement. Service at the Hilton Union Square has not been affected and the hotel advises us that they are confident a new agreement will be in place prior to our Annual Meeting. It is our hope that the hotels and the union come to terms soon and ratify a new contract that is fair to all parties.

In the meantime, Unite Here has urged a boycott of the Hilton Union Square until a new contract is ratified. Our Council, sensitive to the SBL’s respect for the rights, dignity, and worth of all people has considered how to respond to this boycott. After careful reflection, we have concluded that we will continue our arrangement with the Hilton Union Square but on a modified scale. In addition to the fact that cancelling the contract with the Hilton would be a significant financial liability to SBL and AAR, the Hilton will serve to provide much needed sleeping rooms for our growing meeting. It is important to note, however, that out of deference to the union’s position, SBL and AAR have agreed to move several functions to other nearby hotels.

Again, our hope is that the union and the hotels are able to ratify a new contract well in advance of our meeting. We are closely monitoring this situation and will keep the membership posted on any new developments.

The SBL Council
Here is my reply:
If find this email disturbing to me as an SBL member. It appears to make some unwarranted assumptions.

First, how am I supposed to know that the union is all right and the employer all wrong in this case? This appears to be assumed. But it should not be assumed because many unions are greedy, unreasonable and politicized. It could very well be that in this particular case the union is closer to being right than the employer, but that needs argument and should not be assumed.

Second, by what right does SBL, which is a professional academic association intervene in labor-management disputes like this? If individual members want to do so, they are free to do so. But I was not under the impression that by joining SBL I was joining a pro-union, left-wing, lobby group.

Third, I resent the assumption that I as a member favor this action. I don't. So I thought that instead of just rolling my eyes this time I would let you know how I felt. if you never get any negative feedback you probably won't ever change.

Craig Carter, Ph.D.


Peter W. Dunn said...

That's a great idea. I might just reply with my own message.

Peter W. Dunn said...

Here is the email I sent back:

Dear SBL Council:

I am an employer and my sympathies lie rather with the management in a union vs. management debate. I thought that the SBL was a “professional” not a “political” association. Therefore, I don’t understand how you can say that the membership of SBL respects the rights, dignity, and worth of all people –meaning the union workers, over against the rights, dignity and worth of owners and management. I think it would have been better if you had consulted the members about this move rather than simply announcing to us that you have decided to act in our name without an understanding of how we feel about it.

This sort of political activism on the part of a so-called professional association bothers me. I don’t know that I want to renew my membership in the future.


Peter W. Dunn, PhD