Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

How to Protect Your Group When a Strike Strikes

It may be difficult to pin down when labor disputes will turn into strikes at hotels and other meeting venues, but the risk of it happening is always a possibility. Are you covered?

The first thing to do, said meeting industry attorney Joshua Grimes, Grimes Law Offices, is to determine what circumstances, if any, would cause your attendees to balk at crossing a picket line. Are there certain unions or labor issues that would trigger them to move to another hotel or cancel their attendance outright — and leave your organization in the attrition zone? If so, here are three things you need to know to protect your group should a strike happen at your meeting venue.

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1. Consider who else might object to crossing a picket line. Even if you decide your attendees wouldn’t have qualms about meeting at a property while a strike is happening, think about who else might. Grimes told of a group whose key speaker, the spouse of a member of Congress, who was the main draw for the event, had to cancel her appearance when a strike happened at the meeting hotel. “Because the group itself wasn’t too concerned about moving forward with the meeting, it was unanticipated — and it rendered the whole event moot.”

2. Don’t depend on force majeure. “While probably 90 percent of the contracts I see qualify strikes as a force majeure, they also usually carve out an exception for labor disputes involving the hotel’s own employees,” said Grimes.

It’s also important to determine whether it’s a lockout — where the employer tells employees not to come to work because of a dispute — rather than a strike, he added. Grimes once represented the hotel side in a case where a sports league sought to get out of its contracts for team travel hotels due to a lockout. “It’s not force majeure if it’s a lockout: All the team owners had to do was tell the players to come back to work and they would be able to use the hotels.”

If a group believes a preponderance of attendees would not cross the picket line, Grimes believes it should qualify as a cancellation for cause, “meaning because the property is at fault for not controlling the situation, the group should be allowed to meet elsewhere and collect cancellation damages arising from the effective cancellation.”

You also might want to try to include a provision that says the hotel will waive attrition if the group determines that many of its attendees won’t cross a picket line. After all, it’s also in the hotel’s best interest not to have to cancel the meeting, Grimes said. “They ought to let the meeting go on and waive the attrition and work with the group to help relocate attendees who won’t stay there. Cancellations don’t benefit the hotel in any way — they don’t want to collect cancellation or attrition damages if the meeting can be salvaged.”

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3. Consider negotiating a quality-of-service clause. Strike or no strike, a service-level clause is a good idea for any group where the staffing level is important. But it’s even more of a consideration in a strike situation, when the hotel could be down to a skeleton crew. “Without a clause in your contract, that may be acceptable,” he said. Most of the quality-of-service clauses he negotiates specify the number of employees performing specific functions and that the hotel will be maintained in accordance to certain standards.

Even if there’s nothing specifically relating to service quality in the contract, “if the hotel is unable to perform at its customary service levels, it begs for the hotel and the group to work together to determine acceptable service levels or cut the group a break on attrition,” he said. “But your hand is much weaker” when it’s not in your contract. — Sue Pelletier

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

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MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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