The annual event Gala will be held this year at Andrews Dining Hall and Terrace — and not the Westin Hotel — according to an e-mail sent by event organizers to students April 10. The change comes following intense negotiations between organizers and "the Student Labor Alliance, Westin workers and management, University administrators and legal counsel," The Herald reported April 9.
We support the compromise that Gala organizers and SLA were eventually able to reach. Nonetheless, the decision clearly was not easy and the event planners — the 2011 Class Board and the Key Society — now face thousands of dollars in potential losses for breaking their contract with the Westin. In the future, it's important that issues surrounding off-campus event locations be addressed before commitments are made.
Employees at the Westin Hotel, the original venue chosen for Gala, are upset with the hotel's management over recent salary cuts and increased health insurance costs. The worker's union said it has filed an "unfair labor practice complaint" with the National Labor Relations Board, according to a March 17 article in the Providence Journal.
Though the dispute began late last year, the workers did not initiate a boycott until March 18, the Journal reported. By the time the labor issue became widely known, Gala organizers had already signed a contract with the hotel, which required a $5,000 deposit and a minimum $20,000 expenditure on the event, The Herald reported last week.
We applaud the 2011 Class Board and the Key Society for their earnest collaboration with other groups involved in the issue. Even so, we sympathize with event organizers for having to navigate the difficult situation, in which they were unsure if the contract could be canceled without liability.
There are several ways to avoid situations like this in the future and also allow issue-focused student groups to provide input on event planning.
For one, we'd like to see SLA create a database of information about ongoing labor disputes in the Providence area and the labor practices of local employers. This database would allow event organizers to identify potential conflicts in advance and seek out responsible businesses. Though it may be possible for event organizers to find information about these issues themselves, SLA already has a strong presence in the Providence community and more comprehensive knowledge about labor conflicts.
Of course, not all controversies pertain to labor practices. For this reason, we believe that other issue-focused groups may also have valuable advice for organizations planning large, off-campus events. All relevant groups should have a chance to provide their knowledge and expertise to event organizers as well. To this end, we'd like to see the creation of an event advisory council, composed of representatives from any student group that would like to help event organizers. The council would provide planners with information about the conduct of various businesses before any final decisions are made.
At the same time, the choice of venue is ultimately up to those planning the event. We are not suggesting that SLA or any other group be given veto power over other groups' decisions. However, in the vast majority of cases, student groups don't intend to work with businesses that are embroiled in ethical controversy. Through preemptive information sharing and collaboration, student groups can make more informed decisions.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.