Question: Does it matter that a national feminist organization chose to locate its young feminist leadership conference in a hotel that labor activists and consumers boycott because of the hotel’s unfair labor practices and treatment of its workers?
Answer: 100% yes.
This weekend, young feminist activists will gather in Washington, D.C. for Feminist Majority’s National Young Feminist Leadership Conference and spend three days in workshops and training on perennial feminist issues such as abortion access, reproductive health rights, global women’s rights and mobilizing the youth vote. The conference appears to be a good opportunity to network with other young feminists across the country, share information and reenergize feminist commitments. I’ve been thinking of attending the conference for weeks, although now I’m conflicted about pulling out my wallet and forking over the $35 registration fee. Here’s why:
Feminist Majority’s decision to hold a national conference – that is meant to inspire, train and energize the next generation of feminist leaders – in a hotel where many female employees don’t have fair working conditions is a gross oversight and failure to practice the organization’s feminist principles. One of Feminist Majority’s key principles is supporting workers’ collective bargaining and pay equity.
Two years ago, UNITE HERE, a union representing hotel workers across the U.S. and Canada, called on customers to boycott Hilton Crystal City, including several other hotels also owned by Columbia Sussex Corporation. Workers in these hotels faced layoffs, benefit reductions, pay freezes and higher costs for health insurance. As of today, the Hilton Crystal City is still on UNITE HERE’s Boycott List.
Why is Feminist Majority, an influential, powerful feminist organization, turning its back on female hotel workers at Hilton Crystal City by booking its conference there? Have Eleanor Smeal and other Feminist Majority leaders forgotten that securing rights in the workplace for all genders is a feminist issue?
My point in questioning Feminist Majority is to highlight the critical need for feminist organizations and movements to be vigilant and accountable to the principles and goals of feminism in all their actions. As feminists and social justice advocates, we can’t say we want pay equity, collective bargaining rights and fair working conditions for women if we don’t put these beliefs into action. And this means not patronizing hotels that trample on women’s right to a fair workplace and supporting our allies in the labor movement who are working hard on the same issues.
As a student, I was a founding member of my college’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance chapter and I learned a lot of valuable skills and knowledge through Feminist Majority. It’s not my intent to single out or shame Feminist Majority for its decision. Rather, it’s essential that we hold each other accountable in working toward equality and look critically at our failures. We need to practice what we preach or else we risk looking like hypocrites.
UPDATE: I attended the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference on Saturday and had a chance after the morning’s General Assembly to ask Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal about this contradiction. She said that Hilton Crystal City assured Feminist Majority that it is negotiating with workers and is under settlement. Smeal also told me that this year was the first time the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference was not held in D.C. proper because it has grown in size and attendance since it first began 8 years ago. She also stressed the importance of labor issues to Feminist Majority Foundation.