Governance & Organization

A Letter to the Membership: New Orleans in 2010

June 2, 2008

Dear AAA Colleagues:

A number of AAA members have contacted current AAA officers and Executive Board members with questions about the decision, taken by the Executive Board in June 2007, to hold the 2010 AAA meeting in New Orleans.  For the most part, the questions have concerned the relative lack of unionized facilities in New Orleans.  As we will explain below, this decision is fully in accord with the policies on meeting sites adopted by a vote of the membership in 2005; in addition, in the judgment of the Executive Board, the choice of New Orleans at once serves the interests of the Association’s members and fulfills important commitments of the Association to social responsibility, in a world in which, inevitably, the pursuit of social responsibility is complex and imperfect.

What follows is a review of how and why the Executive Board, in June 2007, came to the decision to hold the meeting in New Orleans.  

LOCATING AAA’S ANNUAL MEETING

For many members, the Annual Meeting is one of the most important things that AAA does, and historically, the Executive Board has attempted to place our meeting in highly attractive locations that will meet the needs of the most members and provide them the best possible meeting experience.  Because of the large size of our Annual Meetings and the number of years ahead of the event that venues typically get scheduled, however, AAA always has limited options.  The challenge for AAA is to find a city that can provide the number and size of meeting rooms, sleeping accommodations and plenary sessions, exhibit and other meeting and function spaces that we require, on our preferred meeting dates (typically the weekend before or the weekend after Thanksgiving), as direct airline connections to the whole country as possible, at prices that our members and AAA can afford, with some reasonable rotation pattern between east coast, Midwest and west coast locations. 

Based on past meeting attendance, we try to select cities that our members prefer to go to.  We try to minimize the number of hotels that will house our members, and to use properties that are within very easy walking distance of the meetings location as well as other hotels.  Finally, based on past meeting attendee evaluations, we try to select cities that offer a variety of interesting restaurants and other local amenities and attractions.

It is also important to note that the most attractive venues that can accommodate a meeting of our size and needs typically schedule their space 5 to 7 years ahead of the event.  So, in any one year, AAA will be in competition with other large meetings for the dates we prefer.  The way AAA goes about locating available venues is to formally communicate our meeting requirements to hotel companies and convention and visitors bureaus in possible meeting sites, and to request bids from them.  It is most often the case that in any one year, we will have 3 to 5 possible sites to choose from.

MEETING LOCATION POLICIES REGARDING ORGANIZED LABOR

In the spring of 2005, at the initiative of the Executive Board, an AAA membership referendum was conducted on guidelines for the location of future Annual Meetings.  At the time, the membership was given two choices (1) AAA MUST meet in unionized facilities or (2) AAA STRONGLY PREFERS to meet in unionized facilities. The membership voted to adopt the “strongly prefers to meet in unionized facilities” option as the guideline for future meetings.

THE 2010 ANNUAL MEETING SITE

In June 2007, the AAA Executive Board had before it the decision on where to locate the 2010 Annual Meeting. At the time we had invitations from New Orleans, San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Indianapolis, Tampa, Kansas City, Milwaukee and San Juan.

In advance of the Board meeting, information was gathered on each potential site.  This included available dates, meeting and sleeping accommodation availability, costs for sleeping accommodations and meeting rooms, data on whether these cities had living wage ordinances in place, sodomy laws on their books, and whether the employees of properties being considered were represented by organized labor unions.  All of this information was provided to the Committee on Scientific Communication (the subcommittee of the Executive Board that reviews meeting locations) and to the entire Executive Board (which makes the final determination of meeting locations).

WHY NEW ORLEANS?

Following the devastation of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina, there was an outpouring of AAA membership support for the association to find ways of providing assistance for the people of the city.  In the months following the disaster, observing the failure of federal government to mount a significant and effective effort to repair the physical damage and jump-start the social and economic recovery of the region, association members and members of the Executive Board searched for ways to apply what organizational resources could be marshaled to support the New Orleans community.  

The possibility of locating a future Annual Meeting in the city at the next available opportunity was repeatedly discussed as a way to leverage the economic power of the AAA membership to this end. 

When a bid from New Orleans was received for the 2010 Annual Meeting, the Executive Board considered all of the information available about it and the competing bids, including the fact that the bid did not, at that time, include unionized facilities.  Despite concerns about this, and after extensive discussion of the myriad dimensions of this decision, the Executive Board concluded that holding the 2010 meeting in New Orleans would offer a singular opportunity to show more than symbolic support for the underserved population of New Orleans.  Accepting this bid was seen as a robust way to translate the overwhelming commitment of the Association’s members to the economic, social and political revitalization of the devastated region into tangible assistance to the New Orleans community.

The New Orleans bid met all of AAA’s requirements for the Annual Meeting in 2010 and, in other ways, offered clear advantages (including rotation pattern, dates available, ease of airline accessibility, sleeping room rates, number of hotels used, meeting and function space, and local amenities and attractions) over the other options that were considered.

It was also noted by the Board that New Orleans had been the site for AAA’s 2002 Annual Meeting.  Attendance at that meeting was the second highest in the history of AAA Annual Meetings.  Post-meeting attendee evaluations were extremely positive, urging a return to the city at the next available opportunity.

A POTENTIAL MOVE OF THE 2010 ANNUAL MEETING SITE

It has been suggested that, because of the relative lack of unionized facilities in New Orleans, the Executive Board should consider moving the 2010 meeting to another location.  Such a decision would necessarily involve both finding an alternate location and breaking AAA’s existing contracts with New Orleans hotels.  It should be noted that each city that submits a bid for our Annual Meeting does so with a stipulation that their bid is available only for a finite period of time.  All of the other bids submitted to AAA for the 2010 Annual Meeting have since expired.

AAA’s contracts with all annual meeting hotels have penalty clauses if they are broken by the AAA without cause, as that is defined in the contracts.  Were the AAA to change its mind about the 2010 meeting site, because of the relative lack of union facilities, this would be the case and the AAA would be required to pay penalties of $449,908.  Costs for the 2010 Annual Meeting would then rise greatly.  Projecting 2010 meeting registration at 5,100 (the number of paid registrations at 2002 New Orleans Annual Meeting), individual meeting registration fees will rise by $88 for each attendee at the 2010 Annual Meeting.  In our judgment, such an additional amount added on the top of regular registration fees would likely disenfranchise a large segment of AAA’s membership (especially students and recently hired faculty) from the possibility of attending the 2010 Annual Meeting.

Finally, it is also the case that, following AAA’s decisions to break our 2004 and 2006 hotel contracts, another such occurrence would virtually cripple the association’s reputation with potential hotel and conference center venues, discouraging any major hotel company from considering us as a client and driving the costs of future meetings.

AN ALTERNATIVE COURSE OF ACTION

Because of its concern about this issue, the Executive Board has initiated an effort to develop contracts for additional sleeping rooms with hotels in New Orleans that are located within walking distance of our meeting location and whose employees are represented by a union.  We are pleased to report that this effort has achieved modest success.  As a supplement to the original proposal for the 2010 meeting in New Orleans, the choices of hotels in New Orleans will now include a block of rooms at Loews New Orleans Hotel, which is represented by a union (specifically by UNITE HERE and which is on UNITE HERE’s “recommended list.”).  There is one other unionized hotel that is within walking distance of our meeting site in New Orleans (the Fairmont), but because it is undergoing a change in management, that hotel is not accepting any contracts for our 2010 dates at this time. 

IN CONCLUSION

In 2005, when the AAA membership was asked to vote to establish AAA policies on meeting sites, in regard to unionized facilities, a minority of AAA members voted to make this a requirement for all meetings.  We thus understand that some AAA members would themselves have not acted as the Executive Board did in June 2007, in selecting New Orleans as a meeting site for 2010.  But the decision to select New Orleans was in accord with the policy established by the majority of the membership, was judged to be very attractive in terms of the goals we have for our annual meeting, and was judged to fulfill the Association’s goal of being a socially responsible non-profit organization, in the context of post-Katrina America.  We hope that this email provides all of you a fuller understanding of the decision and of the complexities of selecting each meeting site for our annual scientific meeting.

As the three elected officers of the AAA at the time this decision was made in June 2007, we thank you for your interest in this important matter of AAA decision-making.

Sincerely,

Setha Low, President

Alan Goodman, Past President

Daniel Segal, Secretary 

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The AAA Executive Board encourages your feedback on this issue. Please post your comments to the AAA Public Affairs blog at http://aaanewsinfo.blogspot.com.