The Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish political and civic action group 30 Years After will host its second biennial conference at the Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel on Sunday, Oct. 10, in the middle of a bitter labor dispute between the Hyatt and the hotel’s worker union “Unite Here - Local 11”.
In advance of the event, the Los Angeles-based Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) Western Region announced that they will join Unite Here in picketing the Hyatt Century plaza while the event is going on inside.
A statement from 30YA released to The Journal said 30YA had made every effort to relocate the conference after learning of the union boycott, but Hyatt had refused to release the group from their contract, saying if they cancelled, the hotel would enforce a liquid damages provision in their contract of $53,000, including a $15,000 deposit already paid by 30YA. The group contracted to hold the event at the Hyatt a year ago, before labor negotiations with the hotel began to go sour.
According to Unite Here, Hyatt workers have been without a contract since November 2009, and their contract negotiations with Hyatt have been moving slowly. On Sept. 15, union workers launched boycotts of several local hotels, including the Andaz West Hollywood, Hyatt Century Plaza, and Hyatt Long Beach, picketing the hotels and asking customers not to patronize.
On Wednesday, Oct. 6, Unite Here sent an e-mail to 30YA’s sponsors, speakers and attendees, asking them to pull out from participating in the event after 30YA refused to move the conference venue.
“Unfortunately, when presented with the opportunity to take a courageous step in support of Hyatt workers and hold the conference at a venue not under dispute (such a venue was available), the leadership of 30 Years After made a conscious decision to not to respect the worker-called boycott by continuing to hold the event at the Hyatt Century Plaza,” Unite Here’s e-mail said.
Among the participants who pulled out were Congressional Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Controller Wendy Greuel and California Assemblymembers Mike Feuer and Bob Blumenfield.
Republicans Meg Whitman, who is running for California governor, and Carly Fiorina, who is running for the California Senate seat, both are still scheduled to speak at the event. Democrats Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, and Senator Barbara Boxer had previously declined, before the controversy broke out.
A statement released by 30YA to The Journal said none of 30YA’s sponsors have withdrawn support for the conference. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation, as well as ADL and AJC remain committed. The Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance has so far been the only local Jewish group to pull out from the event.
Sam Yebri, president of 30YA, said he met with Unite Here’s president Thomas Walsh on Sept. 29 after learning of the union dispute and offered the union a forum at the conference to present the issue, but was turned down.
“If we had known about the labor dispute when we were looking for conference locations more than a year ago, we certainly would have looked elsewhere,” Yebri said. “We are genuinely sensitive and sympathetic to the rights and concerns of workers, a central tenet of the Jewish tradition. However, the fact is, a boycott against the Hyatt was launched on Sept. 15, 2010, only three weeks before this conference.”
In a letter Unite Here sent to Yebri on Oct. 8, the union charged that 30YA could have “as recently as a few days ago still logistically move the conference to another venue, and 30 Years After chose not to,” The letter also stated that Hyatt was to blame for the current controversy, accusing the hotel of unfairly holding 30YA to their contract and threatening to enforce damages.
David Ibsen, one of the heads of the New York-based “United Against A Nuclear Iran” organization, who plans to attend the 30YA conference, said he was disturbed by the union’s actions against 30YA and responded via e-mail on Thursday to Unite Here’s e-mail call to boycott the event.
“As a former union member myself, I strongly reject your assertion that I am ‘putting in jeopardy the gains Hyatt workers have made in recent years’,” Ibsen wrote in his e-mail. “Harassing conference attendees and attempting to undermine a perfectly legitimate community event meant to foster, in part, community and political awareness is no way to gain support for your cause.”
30YA was established in 2008 to give voice to young professionals in the Iranian Jewish community who wanted to make a contribution but felt they were often ignored by the older Iranian-Jewish leadership.
Despite the fact that Unite Here and other unions plan to picket outside the Hyatt on Sunday, Yebri said his group’s focus will be on a conference they have spent long hours planning over the past year.
“The union’s dispute with the Hyatt does not impact and should not overshadow the tireless work of 30 Years After’s volunteers in empowering the Iranian-American Jewish community in American Jewish and civic affairs,” Yebri said. “We are proud of the conference that we, as a volunteer-run grassroots organization, have tirelessly organized for two years and thank our partners in the Jewish community for their support and participation.”
To view Karmel Melamed’s video webcast of interviews from the 30YA conference, visit his blog: www.jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews/