Society of Social Work Research Responds to Petition Against Annual Conference

by Deona Hooper, MSW

san-antonio-texas-grand-hyattIn recent months, there has been an ongoing struggle between social workers and the Society of Social Work Researchers (SSWR) for its decision to hold the organization’s annual conference at the Hyatt Hotel in San Antonino, Texas. Currently, the host hotel is involved in labor disputes with Unite Here, a labor union for service workers, for its poor treatment and discriminatory practices against its workers. I have been in contact with both Jeanne Marsh, President of the Society of Social Work Researchers, and Shane Brady who organized an online petition opposing SSWR’s decision to not move the annual conference from the Hyatt Hotel.

After interviewing SSWR last month, the organization has added a page to their website with links to the letters addressing conference concerns to its members. In addition, a frequently asked questions section has been developed to assist potential attendees with getting answers to questions that will help them make an informed decision on whether to attend.

According to a letter to member by President Jeanne C. Marsh,

This year, in response to member concerns, SSWR has negotiated to expand the venue for many meeting sessions to two additional nearby locations, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Marriott Riverwalk hotel. Both venues are within close proximity of one another as well as of the Grand Hyatt San Antonio, within a 15-20 minute walk. The specific location of registration, presentations, symposia, and lectures will be indicated on the conference schedule which will be published online November 11th. The SSWR Board is aware that adding additional venues comes with potential negative consequences. The additional space necessarily comes at a substantial monetary cost to SSWR. While careful financial analyses indicate we can manage these costs at this time, these expenditures will certainly constrain the new initiatives we can take on in the short term. The distribution of the conference events across three locations may affect networking opportunities that have been valuable to our members. We also are cognizant of the potential short-term consequence that our decision could have in reducing hours for Grant Hyatt San Antonio workers.

We recognize the labor dispute between the Hyatt Corporation and the union UNITEHERE presents serious, in many ways intractable, issues for SSWR presenters, members and others in the social work community. The SSWR Board seeks to make all decisions related to the conference mindful of concerns we all share about social justice for low wage workers as well as about our legal and fiduciary responsibility as a non-profit board. At the same time, we are completely respectful of the choices individual members and schools will make regarding the conference.

Shane Brady, the organizer of the petition, considers the policy shift by SSWR as a victory. He stated, “the Society of Social Work Research has heard our effort’s message. They have notified members that the conference registration, many of the panels, interviews, and other aspects of the conference will be held off site. ”  Shane also talked about the importance of ensuring the accountable of social work organizations to the code of ethics in the future.

Where do you stand? Is this a win or do you think more should be done? You can view a video of the service workers concerns below:


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