Monday, November 1, 2010

"Our Profession’s Values….and Why They Matter"- Massachusetts Library Association and the Hyatt 100

Our Profession’s Values….and Why They Matter

Our profession’s dedication to upholding intellectual freedom and to ensuring that all citizens have equal access to library services and information are philosophical ideals that define us. Libraries welcome all, and offer educational and cultural resources equally to all. Library programs and services often support and promote social justice. Our literacy programs empower immigrants through language instruction, homeless persons seek refuge in our buildings, and libraries frequently serve as daycare centers for children whose caregivers aren’t accessible. These are just a few examples of how librarians support society’s most vulnerable citizens.

As proponents of social justice, we are often required to translate our professional ideals into action. Recently, the Massachusetts Library Association (MLA) was challenged to uphold our professional values when we learned that Hyatt Regency Cambridge, which we had contracted with for our 2011 and 2013 annual conferences, was one of the Boston Hyatt hotels that had fired its housekeeping staff. These fired workers, now known as the “Hyatt 100”, were let go so that cleaning services could be cheaply outsourced. Prior to selecting the Hyatt Regency Cambridge for its conference venue, MLA was unaware that it was one of the Boston Hyatt hotels that had fired its housekeeping staff. We subsequently learned about it from the Hyatt 100 and Unite Here, the union now representing them, who contacted MLA Executive Board requesting that we cancel our conference agreement with Hyatt.

The firings of long-time, loyal housekeepers by Boston area Hyatt hotels received a lot of media attention. These actions were denounced by the Boston news media, Mayor Thomas Menino, Governor Deval Patrick, and many other elected officials. In addition, American Library Association (ALA) contacted Hyatt Regency Boston general manager Phil Stamm in order to express dissatisfaction with Hyatt’s abrupt firing of its housekeeping staff.

MLA Executive Board determined that it was essential to take a stand for the Hyatt 100 by communicating our professional values to Hyatt management and requesting to be relinquished from our contractual obligations. An objective and constructive debate that allowed both “sides of the issue” to be objectively examined, resulted in Hyatt Regency Cambridge General Manager Stacey Nichols agreeing to release MLA from its 2011 contractual obligations without penalty, in return for holding us to our 2013 conference contract. Hopefully, this complex labor dispute will be favorably resolved prior to our 2013 conference. We are grateful that General Manager Stacey Nichols was willing to work with MLA to identify a compromise solution to an extremely complex situation. In fact, during our dialogue Ms. Nichols quipped that she would really like to have librarians advocating for her!

As we advocate for libraries, it is often difficult to articulate and crystallize into manageable sound bytes all of the pertinent information that defines us and why we believe that library services and programs are essential to a strong democracy. It is even more challenging to find opportunities for public discourse regarding the values integral to our profession, and why they matter. We encourage all Massachusetts librarians to become active members of MLA. Working together through sections and committees, we can more effectively advance our profession and be strong advocates for the Commonwealth’s libraries and the people who rely on them.

Jackie Rafferty, President
Massachusetts Library Association

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