yoga journal & hyatt boycott: post-conference update


Baron Baptiste teaches an asana class at SF Yoga Journal 2013 (photo by Double Image Media via Facebook)

So it’s been a week since the news broke that the Yoga Journal San Francisco conference was happening at the SF Hyatt Regency despite a labour dispute between the hotel and the workers’ union. Since then, we’ve received an unofficial statement from Yoga Journal, an official statement, support of the boycott from Seane Corn and Shiva Rea, and a little bit of media coverage. The conference, which started on Thursday, January 17, concluded yesterday, and I’ve been scouring my social media feeds for any information on what went down.

Today, Chelsea Roff, who was actually at the conference and able to interview people, published a piece on about the controversy. She addressed some of the myths and inaccuracies floating around while offering the perspectives of Yoga Journal and Hyatt management:

After spending the weekend interviewing hotel workers, union organizers, and staff members both at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero and Yoga Journal, it was clear to me that this dispute is far more complicated than the oversimplistic “Yoga Journal Ignores Exploited Workers” portrait that’s been painted by many in the yoga community thus far.

I think it’s important to recognize the complex dynamics at play in labor conflicts like this one. Disputes between companies and unions are often shrouded in jargon and riddled with conflicting information: As a journalist, it was difficult for me to distinguish fact from opinion and truth from manipulated information.  Everyone involved – UniteHere, Hyatt, Yoga Journal, even the workers – has their own spin on the story.

Hyatt accuses the union of putting its political interests and membership goals before the needs of hotel workers and effectively preventing workers’ from getting wage increases and other benefits by failing to agree on a contract. The Union claims that Hyatt is a corrupt corporation stomping on the rights of powerless workers.

Unfortunately, the question of “who’s right and who’s wrong” doesn’t seem to have a black and white answer. The collision between business, human rights, and economic realities creates a great deal of ethical gray area.

Fair enough. I agree that this whole situation is complex, although I admittedly have a bias and am not aiming for journalistic “neutrality.” Chelsea ends her piece with more questions than answers:

I’m left wondering about the bigger questions this dispute brings up about ethics and politics, and more specifically whether companies like Yoga Journal have a moral responsibility to defend the rights of everyday people, like the Hyatt workers. Should a company be expected to defend the rights of people in its community? And what is Yoga Journal’s community? Does Yoga Journal have a responsibility to continue offering conferences to attendees who come back year after year, even if that means financially supporting a company alleged to abuse its workers?

As I commented on Chelsea’s piece, personally, I’m not so interested in who’s right/who’s wrong. For me, this whole situation brings up questions about Yoga Journal’s ethics and how they respond to their readership. Yoga Journal has known about the boycott for years; I blogged about the boycott last summer and repeatedly reached out to them for comment. They ignored me, and seemingly tried to push this boycott under the carpet. Since the issue came to the forefront last week, their only public statement has been a generic, bland press release posted on their website.

I’m not sure if YJ has a responsibility to hold conferences for the yoga community (like Matthew Remski, I actually feel communities can come together and organize their own events). But I do feel they have a responsibility to be clear and transparent with their readership and attendees, as well as the greater North American community of yoga practitioners.

Was anybody else out there at the Yoga Journal San Francisco conference this weekend? Would love to hear some other experiences and perspectives!

  1. Here we saw again, a reporter who told the public the issues are too complex for you to understand so we will ignore all that stuff. Thanks to the blog host for pointing out that is not a valid approach and readers deserve to know the issues. Too often journalists take the lazy way out and rather than digging until they have a grasp on the truth, they take the easy way out and say it’s too complicated. Hey, Ms reporter, that is your job.

  2. The extreme complexity Chelsea Roff seems to have seen in this situation could have been avoided, and I wish she’d taken the time to consult with conference planners other than those at Yoga Journal for some examples of how. It’s not unusual–and not unreasonable–for conference contracts to include language enabling conference planners to respect workers and unions in labor disputes without losing money. I’d be happy to share example language with Elana Maggal or someone else from Yoga Journal if they’d like to see it.

    • We (community organizations) were able to get Harvard to cancel a Hyatt conference and move to a different venue in 2010 when the local Hyatt staff was tossed out, but we caught it before money had changed hands. Would love to have the sample of contract language that you mention.

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