What’s Next Special Edition: Dr. Nicholas Toloudis and the Bungled Solidarity of APSA for the Hotel Worker’s Strike


This weekend the American Political Science Association (APSA) rolled into Los Angeles for its annual conference. But this year, the annual confab was roiled in controversy as the association was moving on with its conference after Unite Here Local 11 asked them to cancel the conference or move it online in a show of solidarity as their strike and picketing against hotels in the region continued.

APSA’s board voted 17-4 to move on with the conference, but move the meetings, lectures and everything else out of the hotels and into the convention center. This was not enough for Unite Here who noted that the official hotels for the convention were the same ones they were picketing.

This was also not enough for many of its members who boycotted the convention. A few, including today’s guest Dr. Nicholas Toloudis, came to Los Angeles, didn’t stay in a picketed hotel and joined a picket line instead of a plenary.

For anyone just joining the controversy, but finds this topic interesting you can read APSA’s statements and messages to members before the conference (here), follow Dr. Toloudis on Twitter (here), read the most confused tweet about ways to not cross a picket line (here), or read some of the coverage of the APSA controversy (here). And for more coverage of the strike and the actions in Santa Monica, we have lots of coverage of that here at Santa Monica Next.

A full transcript of the interview can be found after the podcast.

Transcript :

Damien Newton  0:00  

So Nick, welcome to our podcast. Welcome to Los Angeles. We’re in Los Angeles, not Santa Monica before anyone says anything. We’re here for a very specific reason. And that reason has changed. And it ties right in with a lot of what we’ve been talking about with the ongoing Unite Here 11 strikes. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you’re doing here and how you’re having a different weekend than you thought you were gonna have?

Dr. Toloudis  0:25  

So my name is Nick Toloudis. I’m a professor of political science at the College of New Jersey. Back over on the east coast, we call it a TCNJ for short, very close to Trenton. I was going to be here to visit you…But the other reason was to participate in the annual American Political Science Association convention, here in LA. And plans changed. Because I learned more about Unite Here local 11’s dispute with the hotels. And the more I learned about it, the more I realized I could not cross a picket line. Actually, I didn’t have to learn that much to know that I couldn’t cross the picket line. But in addition to my just inclination to not want to cross a picket line, the American Political Science Association…I don’t think looks very good right now, for a variety of reasons. I mean, the chief one being that they turned down a direct request to show solidarity with Local 11 by refusing to move its conference fully online or to cancel in addition to the public statements that APSA was making, which I think were rather clumsy. This convinced me that not only would I not cross a picket line, but that I would march with Local 11 sooner than do much of anything else while it was in LA.

Damien Newton  2:14  

We are recording this on Friday, of course, this podcast is airing on Labor Day on Monday. So you actually went this morning and marched with Local 11 on the route that took you by the convention.  As press I didn’t want to march with you. But full disclosure, I did drop you off and pick you up. 

Dr. Toloudis  2:38  

No, we marched down Figueroa where you dropped me off. I think you dropped me off. I think it was near the Intercontinental. Because I’m not native to LA I’m learning about where all these different hotels are downtown as well. But yeah, the March did take us by the JW Marriott, which was the conference hotel from which APSA was scrambling to move a number of its panels. APSA moved a bunch of its panels, most of its panels, I think, either, if not online to, to the convention center. So yeah, the march did take us past it. And I participated in kind of a mini-March of about 20 to 30 people right in front of the GW Marietta entrance.

Damien Newton  3:30  

Was this your first time actually picketing? For those of you that don’t know which I assume unless you’re friends of mine and Nick and are listening to this, that you don’t know. Nick actually studies labor unions, in particular teachers unions, not labor unions, but I don’t haven’t kept up with your day to day life every moment since we graduated college together. Is this your first time picketing or have you one of the other unions you’ve either studied or been a part of overtime been part of a protest like this?

Dr. Toloudis  3:53  

It’s not my first time but it’s my first time in a while. When I was a graduate student, I was part of a grad student union movement that is a movement to form a Grad Student Union. I would say I played a small role in that. I did participate in pickets. I did a little bit of organizing work. I don’t want to exaggerate that. I wasn’t in a leadership position or anything. But I was a “rank and filer” and a supporter of that movement. Since then, I’ve been in lots of protests, marches. I haven’t done a labor picket in many, many years.

Damien Newton  4:32  

Well, it’s good. You got a chance to ask what was the term you used on the phone the other day? flexure activist muscle?

Dr. Toloudis  4:38  

 Yeah, flex my solidarity muscle? Muscle, right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s I mean it I mean, it is something you got to exercise because you will fall out of practice if you don’t do it, and often enough.

Damien Newton  4:49  

It’s interesting as someone that has a political science degree, but I was never…I was never a heavy study or researcher. So I’ve been aware of APSA but was never really involved with it. I was surprised when the story of UNITE HERE and ASPA that became national news. It wasn’t just in my local paper it was in some national publications. You saw it. I mean, you mentioned it was in Mother Jones and then the LA Times.

Dr. Toloudis  5:17  

There were a few places. I mean, there was a piece about it in the Nation. There was a piece about it and Jacobin. Inside Higher Ed had a piece about it. Closer to the date, the LA Times had a piece about it. And then there was an NPR story about it, like just a day or two ago. Yeah. So yeah. As things heated up in LA, more and more media outlets began to take notice of it. That’s true.

Damien Newton  5:47  

When I was talking to a friend of mine who’s involved with the union, I asked pretty bluntly, why are they making such a big deal about this particular conference when there’s lots of conferences that come to town. Pretty much there’s three things that they’ve made a big deal about coming to town: Taylor Swift, Messi’s soccer team, the Florida something, I don’t know Hurricanes and you.. and ASPA not you personally… They basically said it is because we feel like APSA as a group of political scientists should know better. Do you think that’s accurate?

Dr. Toloudis  6:25  

Yeah. It’s a little bit complicated. I sometimes wonder if there’s a good reason to expect us to know better. APSA is, you know, it’s a 6000 Plus member organization, or at least that that’s, you know, approximately the number of people that were expected to be here. When Local 11 made their sort of official request on July 19, for us to move…that is for us to either move entirely online or cancel. There was an open letter sent to the Executive Council, the APSA executive board, signed by over 1000 members requesting that they honor Local 11’s request, which they did not do. As far as what one should have expected. I don’t know. It was a big ask only insofar as the timing group, it was tricky for APSA because of how late in the game it was relative to their preparations. But APSA, as a matter of policy, holds their conventions at union hotels. That is a policy matter for the organization. And it seems to me that if that’s a policy matter for the organization, and you’re not going to listen to a direct call, to express solidarity and to respect a union action like this, that’s a pretty hollow commitment. So on one hand, I feel like one should expect APSA to follow through on its commitments, if it has those commitments. On the other hand, APSA is full of people who want to have it both ways.

Damien Newton  8:13  

You mentioned earlier in our conversation that there’s a couple of things that APSA did do such as move many of its panels and those discussions outside of the hotels. Which I’m guessing because they rented rooms and stuff like that. And now those things are in the LA Convention Center, which is good. Why wasn’t that enough? Is this what you just said? They’re trying to have it both ways. They’re trying to both Express cuts, solidarity and not inconvenience themselves? Too much? Yeah.

Dr. Toloudis  8:46  

It’s not good enough for me precisely because it’s not good enough for Local 11. I mean, Local 11 made the ask and they know what’s going to be most effective for them. This is their dispute. And we’re being put in a position here where we have to know where we stand in that dispute. So, Local 11 did not ask APSA to move all of its events into the convention center. That was something that APSA decided to do in an effort to try to continue to hold their convention as close to normal as possible, while still gesturing toward Local 11 to try to help them. And I should say that I have a lot of respect for the amount of effort that APSA made, that APSA staff made, to do this. I accept that there were some good intentions involved here. But it was not what we were asked to do. It was not what APSA was asked to do. And there was a formal vote that the APSA exec council took in response to Local 11’s request and it went 17 to 4 against doing what was asked of them. This is what Absa has done instead of what Local 11 has requested of them.

Damien Newton  10:09  

You have colleagues that you said, you know, are not coming this year to the convention. Do you have any feel for how much or how little the what’s been going on with Local 11 and the hotels and the call that APSA has had on attendance overall for the conference? I know you’re not on the executive committee or anything like that. But do you have any feel for how this has impacted? APSA both its conference and its reputation in the community?

Dr. Toloudis  10:40  

Um, that’s a good question. I’m active enough on social media on Twitter and a couple of other sites that I do get a sense for how resentful a number of people are, for what APSA hasn’t done. And, you know, to some extent, what it has done. It’s hard to gauge for sure. But you know, I’ve seen dozens of people certainly on Twitter suggest that not only are they not coming but that they’re going to rethink their membership to the association. And I just have to wonder, you know, if there are people that as a result of what APSA has done, if there are people who are going to be canceling their membership; the question that I think APSA officials should ask themselves is, “Are there any people that are going to join APSA as a direct result of what’s been done?” That is, this seems like a net loss for APSA. But I mean, in terms of sort of raw membership. But then it is also true. That APSA doesn’t look good right now. I haven’t read any good press that APSA is getting as a result of this. It’s only been bad press. So I don’t know if that answers your question. It’s hard to gauge magnitude. But I haven’t seen any good press as a result of this.

Damien Newton  12:00  

What I’ve seen online has mostly been people either complaining or mocking. The NPR piece you mentioned someone’s like, I remember one person said, “I gave this quote about solidarity and what she should do. And they followed it directly up with someone saying that they don’t support APSA, but they’re still going to the conference.” And she thought that that was a funny segway, intentionally revealing. But the other thing that we talked about a little bit is how, when something like this happens, it’s not just bad for…that it’s also bad for members that are sort of stuck going to the conference. As you express that there was a friend of yours who I’ll be meeting later this weekend who is going to the conference, because if he doesn’t he wouldn’t get reimbursed for the money he had already put out by his university. You know, this is relevant for a lot of professors and grad students and researchers. Yeah. By holding the conference, they’re putting some of their own members in a financial bind.

Dr. Toloudis  13:01  

Yeah, no, that’s true. That’s why I want to distinguish my reactions to APSA, from my reactions to the membership. APSA is the organization that’s made a mistake here, by putting its members in the situation. I fully accept that the members of this association which run the gamut from graduate students to non-tenure track faculty to tenure track faculty, tenured faculty run the gamut. I fully understand that there are some people who are in a situation here where there may be legit financial reasons because they need reimbursements, they expect reimbursements, that they have to make some kind of an appearance here. But I’m telling you, I also know people who have those kinds of constraints, and have still canceled. So you know, these are going to be personal decisions now, individualized decisions that the member that each member is making. And that’s the problem. It should never have come to this, this should have been a decision that the association needed to protect its members. Again, you know, if this had been a collective decision, that and you know, APSA has the capacity for some creativity here with regard to how they protect their members. You know, it’s not like everybody has to lose out here, although it may be that some people do have to shoulder some losses. But you know, that’s solidarity. It gets back to the thing that you quoted a second ago from NPR. eventually you have to make a decision here. Who do you stand with? Are you willing to make a sacrifice? Because if you’re not, you’re not committed to solidarity, even in principle. Right. I mean, in practice, solidarity is something that you do, it’s not something that you feel. So, again, I really don’t think people can have it both ways when it comes to this, but to repeat. APSA is the organization that I’m most critical of. APSA is the party involved that I’m most critical of you’re not the members.

Damien Newton  15:10  

So congratulations. Since we started this conversation, your tweet has now moved to over 2000 views. It’s only been a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the one with Scabby has gotten less views, only 1000 or so.

Dr. Toloudis  15:28  

I like scabby one.

Damien Newton  15:31  

Every time I see Scabby make an appearance. It brings a small smile to my face. Mostly because I don’t remember scabby having…

Dr. Toloudis  15:39  

claws. Those are big.

Damien Newton  15:41  

No, that blood stain on his chest that he seems to have now.

Dr. Toloudis  15:45  

Yeah, I wondered about that, too. Yeah.  Maybe Scabiei. Just says, a rash in his abdomen.

Damien Newton  15:50  

Or I was thinking, you know, they’ve had a few incidents where security has roughed up protesters. I’m wondering if the blood appeared after those incidents? 

Dr. Toloudis  15:58  

Oh, yeah, that’s right. No, yeah. I saw that video on Twitter. I think about a week or so ago. Yeah. 

Damien Newton  16:08  

Which one? The one with the fence where they’re getting pushed back with the fence or the one where they got attacked?

Dr. Toloudis  16:12  

Oh, no, I think I think it was the one where they got attacked. Yeah.

Damien Newton  16:15  

Well, we’ll visit that hotel tomorrow after our run. Oh, great. Yeah, it’s late because it’s right by our local run route Ah, anyway, I think we’re getting close to our….I always joke, I call it our artificially created time limit. Is there anything you’d like to close with, I’d say for anyone listening to this, who’s interested but is confused because they haven’t really followed the APSA part of this, this much larger strike story. There will be links in the text that accompanies this podcast at Santa Monica Next to some of the statements and some of the other articles and Nick’s tweet that I just mentioned. So please check us out there, if you’re listening to us on iTunes or somewhere else, and you can’t read all that stuff, just SantaMonicanext.org. And even if it is not, by Labor Day, if you scroll down, the podcasts have their own section, it will be very easy to find. But now that I’ve said that, is there anything you want to say in closing?

Dr. Toloudis  17:13  

Well, I’m sure that most of the people, if not all of the people who are going to listen to this are aware of this, but I just want to mention. One of the things that I’ve learned, it’s not surprising to me, is that the labor community broadly speaking in Los Angeles is supportive of Unite Here Local 11. And it’s I think it’s important to keep this in mind for a number of reasons. But in terms of the conflict with APSA, one of the reasons is that APSA claims that if it had canceled, it would have hurt workers at the LA Convention Center, at local restaurants, and other hotels that are not part of the labor dispute. And I just want to say that that was actually one of the things that got me really pissed off. And that was one of the things that made me think, “Yeah, I think a picket line is really where I want to be.” APSA has no place deciding what the interests are, and what the strategies should be of workers elsewhere…OR anywhere in Los Angeles. APSA can decide for itself what it wants to do based on its understanding of its membership, and what kind of an ethical position it wants to take vis a vie, a labor dispute which, in principle, in theory, it should be supportive. Once again, it is APSA policy to only have conventions in cities with unionized hotels. So again, you can’t have it both ways. And you can’t start claiming that you know, best you know, how to support workers in a given city. They understand their situation better than APSA does.

Damien Newton  18:56  

I think that’s a great place to stop so thank you so much for your time today. I usually say something like “join us soon.” and all that but I mean, you’re literally like 50 feet away from me across the house. So it would be weird to say that so, “see you soon.” 

Dr. Toloudis  19:09  


Damien Newton  19:10  

and we’ll we’ll stay in touch…see all my normal like closing lines make no sense because I mean

Dr. Toloudis  19:18  

Yeah, can you think of a different closing line?

Damien Newton  19:22  

No, I mean, I was gonna close by talking about going tomorrow we’ll run past the hotel where the other picket line is in Santa Monica but already said that. This is well you know this this podcast is not going into my Press Club Award portfolio. 

Dr. Toloudis  19:39  

 Well, I hope it’s not my fault.

Damien Newton  19:41  

Now. No, I really should have had a closed written out. Now. People are listening like,” Is he gonna end the podcast anytime soon?” And I think “Yeah, I’m gonna I’m gonna end it right now.”

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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