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Dispatches from the Third Coast

The Third Coast Festival's operations in Chicago this weekend is rocked by a hotel strike happening in the city.

This is less a business story than a community story, but it’s a story I’m tracking nonetheless: folks attending the annual Third Coast International Audio Festival this weekend find themselves facing a tough choice. At this writing, workers at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place — where the festival was originally scheduled to be held — along with other locations are striking to ratify contracts for better health care and other protections. (Here’s the Chicago Tribune’s write-up.) This puts attendees (and presenters), many of which are generally cash-strapped and some of whom are staying at the hotel, in a difficult situation: to cross the picket line to attend the conference, or to skip the conference altogether (possibly sinking the financial cost).

I’m writing this on Thursday morning, and it remains a fluid situation. The festival has officially pulled out of the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place venue, securing new locations up north in the downtown area of the city. Many more details need to be put in place, but for now, it seems like Third Coast will carry on as expected.

For what it’s worth, I’d like to extend my sympathy to the Third Coast organizers: they’re a very small team, and this is a really tough situation. That being said, questions can rightfully be asked about why the conference organizers didn’t get in front of this sooner — the strike, it seems, has been going on for an at least a month — but that’s for later. In the meantime, best of luck to the team, who made the right choice with the venue pull-out, I think. These are the moments where the most important moral choices are made, and here’s to hoping that everyone else makes the right one.

Addendum by Caroline Crampton [on October 6, 2018]:

The Chicago hospitality workers’ union ratified a new contract with the original conference venue, the Hyatt McCormick Place late afternoon on Thursday, so the strike there is now over with staff returning to work Friday morning. The Third Coast organisers subsequently announced that there were returning the programme of events to this venue, and that any attendees who had cancelled reservations or moved out of the hotel to avoid crossing the picket line could now rebook their room at the same rate, pending availability.

So all’s well that (mostly) ends well — the union is reportedly happy with the new contract, which includes provision for year-round healthcare. Overall, the mood I picked up at the opening night events was a slightly conflicted one: there was near-universal support among those I spoke to for the decision to move the conference in solidarity with the strike, but plenty of questions asked about the lack of communication earlier on about the situation, and sympathy expressed for freelancers and international visitors who found themselves temporarily stranded and out of pocket owing to the upheaval.

The conference is now due to run on schedule in the original venue; we’ll have more updates in Tuesday’s newsletter.