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One Step Toward a Moral Economy

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With help from Longview Senior Fellow Fred Block, the union of hotel workers has provided a powerful example of how consumers can contribute to a moral economy.

Imagine more than 100 organizations using their consumer dollars in support of better working conditions and compensation for employees at hotels and convention centers. That's exactly what happened on June 28th when UNITE HERE, the union that represents hotel workers, announced the launch of INMEX–the Informed Meeting Exchange (see press release below). This is a powerful example of how consumer action can help to construct a moral economy that creates real opportunities for people who would otherwise be trapped in poverty.

While the organizing credit goes to the union, Longview Senior Fellow Fred Block was a key catalyst for this effort. Fred helped elaborate the vision for a standard setting organization for the hotel and convention industry, and he played a central role in persuading the American Sociological Association to be one of INMEX’s initial subscribers.

Fred argued from the beginning that the hotel industry illustrates how employers in the U.S. can choose between a low road and a high road. Thousands of hotel and motel workers are paid $6.00 or $7.00 an hour–a poverty wage-- to do back breaking work without health insurance or any kind of job security. In contrast, unionized hotel workers in cities like Las Vegas and New York earn more than $30,000 per year, have health insurance, job security, and an organization that protects them from unsafe working conditions.

But as Fred has stressed in his writings on Market Fundamentalism, the current fashion in the corporate world is to drive executive compensation ever higher while reducing labor costs to a minimum. So some of the largest hotel chains are tempted to follow the low road. This means waging war on the union, stripping workers of health care coverage, and restoring management’s freedom to fire workers for any arbitrary reason.

The reality, however, is that following the high road actually makes more sense for hotel consumers. A skilled and energetic labor force makes all the difference in the quality of a guest’s hotel experience. Few people would actually want to have their convention or annual meeting surrounded by surly workers who have been consistently disrespected by their employer. Moreover, union-management cooperation in this industry has been very fruitful in making employees more productive in providing the full range of hotel services.

The inspiration behind INMEX is that consumers can exert their collective power to tilt this industry towards the high road. There are literally tens of thousands of organizations and associations that use hotel space for meetings, conferences, and conventions, and provide the industry with a substantial share of its revenues. Hence, the hotel industry will have to take notice if some of those organizations band together to support strong labor standards for this industry.

Working alone as individuals, our power is limited. But many people belong to one, two, three, or many different associations–religious, professional, fraternal, political, and avocational. By working to get the associations to affiliate with INMEX, the pressure on the industry to create better working conditions and better labor relations will be magnified.

To be sure, the hotel industry is one small segment of the economy, but the lesson is that institutional creativity and grassroots action can transform this economy sector by sector. The trend of the last thirty years towards growing inequality of income and wealth is not inevitable; it can be reversed. Working together, we can create an economy that is highly productive, fosters innovation, and is consistent with our deepest moral commitments.

Press Release: The Informed Meetings Exchange (INMEX) launches with the support of over 100 organizations

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 28, 2006--More than 100 subscribers representing approximately $200 million in annual direct hotel expenditures formally announce the creation of the Informed Meetings Exchange (INMEX). INMEX is an organization that researches, analyzes and distributes information about the global hospitality industry to subscribers. INMEX is a clearinghouse of information, services and best practices for consumers in the meetings market. At its launch on June 28, INMEX subscribers already represent some of the largest and most highly-respected associations and organizations in the LGBT, African-American, Latino, Academic, non-profit and labor communities.

"We can't take for granted the power of our organizations' dollars in the hospitality industry, and how those dollars affect communities of color in a very concrete way," said Julian Bond, Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We want to ensure that our money is spent in a way that is consistent with our organizational values and priorities. INMEX will allow all of our organizations to be more informed consumers before we book our next meetings and conventions. By giving us concrete information on potential labor disputes, strikes, boycotts or upcoming negotiations, our organizations are kept in the loop. As a result, our meetings and conventions will have a higher likelihood of success."

"As a civil rights organization committed to equality and justice, we are excited about the opportunity INMEX provides," said Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "The LGBT community spends billions of dollars every year in the hospitality industry. With INMEX, we are going to be able to make more informed choices about which hotel companies we chose to do business with. Additionally, by joining INMEX with so many key national organizations - many of which conduct several meetings a year, we can exchange ideas and suggestions on best practices and our experiences with different hotels and cities."

Cecilia Munoz, Vice President of the National Council of La Raza, agrees that the impact of their organization's meetings conventions dollars makes them a key consumer in the hospitality industry. "We have approximately 20,000 people participate in our annual conference each year. That translates into millions in economic impact to a destination city. Most of the people that make our conventions successful are the men and women who clean our rooms, serve our food and prepare our meals. We have to make sure that they are getting a fair share of our meeting dollars, as well as safe workplaces and respect. And that's the beauty of INMEX; this is a service that provides us key information about how the hotel industry treats its workers and its customers, so that we can make responsible business decisions that affect our members in a positive way."

John Wilhelm, President of the Hospitality Division of UNITE HERE, which is the Union that helped launch INMEX, sees this as an opportunity to speak to a broad audience about issues that are important to the industry in a unique and meaningful way. "The organizations here represent the most lucrative, consistent and highly sought after customer segment in the hospitality industry. The largest global hotel corporations, like Hilton for instance, rely on meeting and convention business from groups like these for approximately one-third of their annual revenue. INMEX is a useful tool for all organizations to ensure they have the most accurate information about the hotel industry before they book meetings and events."

"The hotel industry has realized record profits in the last few years, and I think our groups are beginning to understand that global hotel corporations rely on our groups' business to sustain those profits," said John Stephens, Executive Director of the American Studies Association and Board Chair of INMEX. "Subscribers will use INMEX to help them make more informed decisions about where and how they spend their highly coveted meetings and conventions dollars. With this type of transparency and information exchange, all of us can ensure that the dollars we spend have a positive impact on hotel workers lives and the communities they live in."

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