A Call for Change in APA’s Position on the Boycott at the Manchester Grand Hyatt

Brad Olson and Roy Eidelson

manchester_demoThis open letter calls for the immediate reconsideration of the American Psychological Association’s (APA’s) current plan to use the Manchester Grand Hyatt as a headquarters hotel for the 2010 Annual Convention in San Diego. In particular, we respond here to what we view as a highly troubling September 26, 2009 letter sent by APA president-elect Carol Goodheart to APA Council members.

In November 2008, California’s Proposition 8 abolished same-sex marriage in the state, setting back our nation’s progress toward equality for all. Prior to the vote, Doug Manchester, owner of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, contributed $125,000 to help fund the campaign – a campaign that relied on deceptive ads, appeals to prejudice, and fear-mongering to ultimately overturn equal rights for same-sex couples in California.

Following Manchester’s contribution, local GLBT and labor rights supporters united as a coalition and called for a boycott of Manchester’s Hyatt. This boycott has now entered its second year, and it continues to grow. In September of 2009, the Courage Campaign and Equality California signed on to the boycott effort, joining Californians Against Hate and Unite Here (see Say No to Doug Manchester).

Supporting the boycott, organizations have moved their events to other locations. According to the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, this list includes the American Association of Law Schools; the San Diego County Pension Fund; the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; the San Diego Association of Realtors; the California Nurses Association; the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations; and the International Foundation of Employee Benefits.

The APA’s response stands in sharp contrast, despite the Association’s resolution stating that it “shall take a leadership role in opposing all discrimination in legal benefits, rights, and privileges against same-sex couples.” President-elect Goodheart’s recent letter re-affirms the APA’s plans to keep the Manchester Hyatt as its lead convention headquarters hotel and to hold its Board and Council meetings there. In contradiction to its professed commitment to same-sex rights, the letter evades and misrepresents the crucial social justice issues at stake.

We therefore call upon the APA Board to reconsider its decision. Doug Manchester and the Hyatt management should be notified of APA’s desire to renegotiate or cancel the contract. The legality of the current contract should be thoroughly investigated, and a broader analysis of all potential financial ramifications should be conducted. At the very least, the APA should move its Board and Council meetings and associated events to a different hotel. Divisions, other entities, and all convention attendees should be encouraged to make independent decisions based on their own values.

The right of same-sex couples to marry is a civil rights issue of no less consequence – nor of more ethical complexity – than any other in our nation’s history. The American Psychological Association’s current position regarding the Manchester Hyatt is unacceptable. We encourage those who share our views to communicate their concerns to Dr. Goodheart, APA’s Board of Directors, the Council of Representatives, and other division leaders.

Below we respond in detail to the claims made and issues raised by Dr. Goodheart in her most recent letter (a response to her earlier late-August letter is available here). Thank you for your time, attention, and consideration. We welcome any and all dissemination of our letter.

Sincerely,

Roy Eidelson and Brad Olson

12 Concerns about APA President-Elect Carol Goodheart’s Recent Letter

1. Dr. Goodheart asks APA divisions not to join the hotel boycott and to reconsider any decisions to do so. It is wrong for APA’s leadership to actively encourage or pressure divisions to use the Manchester Hyatt for convention business meetings and hospitality suites – and to therefore ignore their concerns of conscience. This is particularly problematic for divisions that have re-established themselves as “societies” for the express purpose of maintaining their independence. In her letter Dr. Goodheart also expresses the fear that too many divisions may make autonomous decisions to boycott the Manchester Hyatt. Perhaps this worry is recognition that the APA Board’s position runs counter to the moral commitments of a good portion of its members.

2. Dr. Goodheart reveals that in February 2009 the APA Board decided it “would have to honor” the original Manchester contract. There is no indication that any effort was made to renegotiate or dissolve this contract, even in light of recent events. This is disappointing and hard to explain, especially since there may be legitimate and persuasive legal grounds for taking such action. For example, the National Lawyers Guild of San Francisco has noted that the hotel may be violating its contractual commitments to provide “a quiet and non-controversial venue” for association meetings.

3. Dr. Goodheart’s two reasons why the APA must honor the contract are unconvincing. First, she notes that “Board policy is to not cancel hotel contracts unless there is imminent danger to attendees or staff.” Second, she writes that, “in a time of serious financial crisis, cancellation of the contract would deplete the APA’s limited resources by over a million dollars.” Of course, by offering this second reason (the national financial crisis), Dr. Goodheart communicates that “Board policy” alone is insufficient grounds for honoring the contract. As for the stated financial repercussions, any meaningful assessment would seemingly require a thorough strategic and legal analysis of the likely outcomes of contesting the contract or pursuing a reasonable compromise – and there is no indication the APA ever conducted such an analysis.

4. Dr. Goodheart’s letter misrepresents the most important and enduring consequences of a boycott for Doug Manchester and his hotel. In a short-sighted argument, Dr. Goodheart states that “a boycott, although a strong symbolic gesture, would not achieve the desired results; the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel would receive the same revenue…because of major contractual penalties of up to $500,000.” But the power of a successful boycott is not measured solely by its effect on immediate revenues. More important are the ever-widening ripple effects produced as more and more groups and individuals take notice and join the boycott effort. A well-publicized decision to stay away from the Manchester Hyatt by an organization with APA’s membership size and clout would be no small matter and far more than a mere “gesture.”

5. Dr. Goodheart wrongly compares the current situation to APA honoring past convention contracts in Toronto during the SARS outbreak and in post-Katrina New Orleans. Toronto and New Orleans were two host cities confronting economic fallout from tragic and fear-inducing natural events. Some organizations altered, canceled, or relocated their conventions; the APA did not. But to argue similar circumstances now apply in San Diego – in regard to a particular hotel – is to strain credibility. If there is a principled stand based on the greater good that explains the current position of APA’s leadership, it has not yet been made clear. Indeed, the letter leaves the reader doubting that the APA Board, all else being equal, would actually prefer to find an alternative to the Manchester Hyatt.

6. Dr. Goodheart’s letter presents misleading and seemingly biased information about the labor issues involved. That the APA sides so fully with hotel management over workers in the letter is rather transparent and appears to suggest that the APA leadership is far too comfortable serving those in power. Indeed in the emailed letter to APA Council, a letter from Doug Manchester himself was attached, while no opposing voice was given the opportunity to present an alternative view. Why the APA would adopt such a trusting attitude toward an ultra-wealthy hotelier while taking such a questioning stance toward advocates for labor rights calls for further clarification.

7. Dr. Goodheart endorses management representations of favorable working conditions at the hotel, emphasizing that the Manchester is managed like all other Hyatts. But only last month the Boston Globe reported that 100 long-time workers at three Boston-area Hyatts were abruptly fired after they had finished training lower-paid workers. Management had initially claimed the temps would only be filling in during vacations. More generally, in vouching for the Manchester’s labor policies, Dr. Goodheart’s letter displays no awareness that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process for resolving disputes between labor and management is deeply flawed. These inequities are well-documented in the Unfair Advantage report from Human Rights Watch; in numerous reports from the Economic Policy Institute, including No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing; and in efforts by President Obama and a bipartisan Congressional coalition to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

8. Dr. Goodheart’s anecdotal observations from her recent visit to the Manchester Hyatt are misleading. She reports “We saw firsthand that there was no picket line because it is not a union hotel and there were no demonstrators.” But one need only conduct a quick internet search to find news articles and photos documenting that picketing has indeed taken place over the past year. For example, the San Diego News Network reported last month: “Most nights there is a noisy picket line in front of the hotel.” If the hotel’s non-union workers are not joining these lines, it is likely because workers without union representation are routinely subjected to severe and often illegal repercussions when management suspects them of any interest in organizing. This includes being fired for union activity; required attendance at anti-union meetings with supervisors; and threats of worksite closure if a union is formed. Compared to union workers, non-union employees receive lower wages and are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pension plans – and they face growing, health-impairing workload demands (see Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain). In short, the APA leadership’s quick embrace of the status quo calls for reconsideration.

9. Dr. Goodheart’s letter blurs the LGBT community’s key complaint against the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The basis for the boycott could not be clearer: owner Doug Manchester contributed $125,000 to abolish the right of same-sex couples to marry, and he continues to support this form of discrimination. Dr. Goodheart’s observation that the Global Hyatt Corporation, headquartered in Chicago, received a “Best Places to Work” designation from the LGBT-rights focused Human Rights Campaign is irrelevant. In fact, after Manchester’s Prop 8 contribution, the Human Rights Campaign demanded that its “Best Companies” logo be removed from Hyatt material referencing Manchester’s San Diego hotel. Any suggestion by the APA leadership that LGBT rights advocates are divided on this boycott is entirely unsubstantiated.

10. The APA Board’s anti-boycott argument in the letter presents inconsistent financial figures, while failing to provide meaningful context. From the letter, APA’s actual financial exposure is exceedingly difficult to assess. Within the space of consecutive paragraphs, Dr. Goodheart first warns “cancellation of the contract would deplete APA’s limited resources by over a million dollars”, and then alludes to “major contractual penalties of up to $500,000.” Both are large numbers; but one more than twice the other, and “up to $500,000″ is impossibly vague. The letter also fails to note that the APA is an organization of close to 100,000 members and has assets – based on the APA’s most recent Annual Report – that conservatively exceed $200,000,000, even after the severe economic downturn. The apparent worst-case scenario of a $500,000 penalty therefore averages out to $5 per member (with basic annual membership dues of $287 per person). There are other ways the APA can lose $500,000. Losses of that magnitude will quickly accrue if, for instance, roughly 1,800 psychologists decide to avoid the 2010 convention or decline to renew their annual membership (or decide not to join the APA).

11. Dr. Goodheart’s letter promotes an unjustified “either-or” view of how to address the Manchester Hyatt situation. Rather than endorsing the boycott, proposing direct actions, and demonstrating an unequivocal commitment to equal rights, the letter recommends alternatives deemed “positive” and “affirmative,” such as a press conference and information packets. These activities should be offered regardless – but in no way can they be considered sufficient. And the APA leadership’s proposal that “visible support” for same-sex marriage can be demonstrated by wearing a “button” is simply inadequate. One can hardly imagine where other hard-earned civil rights would stand today if their supporters had done little more than wear buttons in such circumstances.

12. Finally, Dr. Goodheart’s letter withholds answers to a broad range of important questions. Why did Dr. Goodheart and other APA staff recently travel to San Diego and visit the Manchester Grand Hyatt? After all, according to the letter, the APA leadership had already decided to honor the contract back in early 2009. With whom did they visit while there? Did they meet with any boycott representatives to gain their perspective? Did they meet with any members of the hotel’s housekeeping staff (or only with the hotel’s management)? Who are the anonymous “key stakeholders,” “knowledgeable members of the LGBT community,” “constituents,” “community informants,” and “key players” alluded to in the letter? How were members of the “work group” selected, and what charge were they given? Lastly, what has transpired over the past month that should reasonably alter the view of those APA divisions and members who support a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt?

Given the pressing civil and human rights issues involved, we reiterate the need for the APA to attempt to renegotiate or cancel the Manchester hotel contract, investigate the legal and financial ramifications more thoroughly, move its Board and Council meetings to other locations, and encourage divisions/societies, other entities, and convention attendees to make their own independent decisions.

For more information or to join on to this effort, please contact Roy Eidelson (reidelson@eidelsonconsulting.com) and/or Brad Olson (bradley.d.olson@gmail.com).

PsySR member Brad Olson is a community and social/personality psychologist, activist, consultant, and research faculty at Northwestern University. He is a co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, and former chair of Divisions for Social Justice (DSJ), a collection of 12 divisions of the APA. .

PsySR president Roy Eidelson is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings.

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9 Responses to “A Call for Change in APA’s Position on the Boycott at the Manchester Grand Hyatt”

  1. rick Says:

    First PsySR argued against APA involvement in the war on terrorism. Now PsySR argues for APA involvement in the politics of defining marriage.

    PsySR may have a political mission but APA does not. Or more precisely, APA should not have a political mission.

    PsySR should ask APA to rescind the resolution about “taking a leadership role in opposing all discrimination in legal benefits, rights, and privileges against same-sex couples.” This would be an investment in keeping APA out of politics, instead of an investment in trying to control the direction of APA politics.

  2. chops Says:

    Rick, failing or refusing to take a stand against discrimination is not an apolitical or politically neutral act. In fact, it’s an politically loaded choice.

    I’m sick of this tendency people have of categorizing left-leaning politics as “political” and right-leaning politics as non-existent, apolitical or otherwise neutral.

    Anyway, the point shouldn’t be eradicating anything that smells of politics from the APA. Such an aim is both futile and impractical. The point is to acknowledge and accommodate only politics that further the psychological well-being of humans, regardless of whether those politics skew left or right.

    Of course, there will be some who don’t believe that gay marriage rights are relevant to psychological well-being, but the research of Division 44 would probably suggest otherwise.

  3. Gunnar Orn Ingolfsson Says:

    This is my take:

    I do not believe that any opinion or decision can be made without being labeled as political by a person or institution.

    I further believe that the choice of taking no action is worse than voicing an opinion on where you stand. At least when you present an opinion you admit to it and can give reason for it. When you present no opinion you support the status quo and therefore the system in power.

    Finally, since it is a choice to take no action or not get involved, it is always political.

  4. Edward Kelty Says:

    Marriage is a charming and traditional religious practice which should be separated from legal issues about equal rights. Californians seem to confuse the two issues, but that is their right.

    APA should honor its contracts or it will not be trusted in future convention negotiations.

    It is my personal responsibility to “vote with my feet” and not stay at the Hyatt.

    • J D Wallsten Says:

      I believe that you are mistaken. It is the Manchester Hyatt that is not to be trusted. Any responsible hotel meeting/conference coordinator would definatly see the value in the APA changing their venue due to a conflict in the organizations declarations to patients, the community, and their members. If the APA does hold their convention at the Manchester Hyatt, then you all lose face – with patients. Good Luck with that. It is an affort to me that you would attend a convention at the Manchester Hyatt – see you there – I’ll be in the protest line. All the Best, J.D.

  5. chops Says:

    Edward, about your second sentence – I would venture that much of the debate is whether it is, indeed, the legitimate right of Californians to deny fellow Californians other rights. Whether gay marriage limitations are constitutional or not is still somewhat up in the air, legally speaking.

  6. Psyche, Science, and Society » Dreger: Human rights of LGBTs too expensive for American Psychological Association APA Torture Abuse Says:

    […] anti-gay marriage campaign, Proposition 8. APA has refused to honor the boycott, despite calls from activists among its […]

  7. J D Wallsten Says:

    have written twice to President Carol Goodheart, letting her know, that patients object to this slap in the face
    (No Response).
    I have inquired of my own Doctor if he was attending (thankfully no), explaining my feelings on the issue to great length.
    I have brought the issue up in my Men’s Group & other patients are willing to change therapists if their Doctor does attend.
    I am encouraging everyone to query their Doctor about this important issue.
    We, the patients, are willing to drop our therpists and Doctor if they attend the convention at this location.
    If the APA continues with their plan, then we will continue ours – there will be an (ugly) protest outside the contvention center. The media will have a feeding frenzy with Dr. Goodheart.


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