Recode's Code Conference Will Stay At Controversial LA Venue Despite Tech Workers' Protests

The Tech Workers Coalition posted an open letter to Recode's Kara Swisher, Peter Kafka and Code Conference organisers on Tuesday, urging them to relocate the media and tech conference because the resort hosting it is in the midst of multiple controversies involving its employees. But it appears the conference won't move, at least not this year.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez (Getty)

The conference typically takes place at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. However, a staffing agency Terranea uses is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with former employee Sandra Pezqueda, who says she was fired in 2016 after reporting her supervisor at Terranea for allegedly making unwanted sexual advances. The worker-led coalition is urging Recode to move its conference to a different venue as a show of solidarity with Pezqueda.

"What kind of message does it send to the tech community if our bosses and coworkers spend several days and thousands of dollars to wine and dine and celebrate themselves at the Terranea Resort while these allegations remain outstanding?" the coalition wrote in the letter, posted on Tuesday. "Is it enough to challenge patriarchy and racism in our industry, but not support the people challenging these structures who clean our hotel rooms, wash our dishes, or cook our food?"

Terranea said in a statement that trade union UNITE Here started to pressure guests and event planners late last year in an attempt to get them to cancel their events at the resort "based on false allegations, exaggerations and innuendo". A representative from the resort also added that guests and customers mostly ignored the union's attempts.

Terranea president Terri A. Haack noted the resort's appreciation for its relationship with its workforce and the opportunities they afford them. "We value family, work-life balance and community," she said. "We celebrate the individual and work hard to create an environment that gives each associate a sense of personal value. And we continue to build a strong and diverse culture, one in which our recruitment policies, diverse workforce, in-house training programs, and inclusive environment reflect a workplace in which we all can be proud."

Pezqueda, who was named one of Time's silence breakers last year, worked as a dishwasher and chef's assistant at the resort. She filed complaints with the staffing agency that employed her at Terranea, Excellent Maintenance Service, which led to supervisors retaliating against her and, ultimately, firing her, according to Pezqueda. She said that her boss at the time tried to kiss her on two occasions at work, routinely changed her work schedule so they would be working alone together, and also offered her more work hours in return for a date, the Atlantic reported. Pezqueda's lawsuit is set to go to trial in June.

Pezqueda is not the only worker who has issues with Terranea. Union workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the resort in October alleging wage theft and other labour violations, the Daily Breeze reported. The workers are now fighting for better hourly salaries, work shifts and transportation options.

The Tech Workers Coalition notes in its letter to the Code Conference organisers that AOL and Oath had relocated its Makers Conference, which was originally supposed to take place at Terranea, because of "public pressure". It believes that Vox Media, which owns Recode, should also stand in solidarity with Pezqueda and other workers who say they experienced sexual misconduct. This year, however, it appears the conference will stay put.

Swisher, who serves as Recode's executive editor, acknowledged the then-unpublished letter in a Twitter thread yesterday, noting "that both Vox Media and Recode support safe and inclusive workplaces, and we take all labour-related matters seriously". Swisher said they support the ongoing union efforts, but she cited "logistical constraints" as a reason for not relocating this year's conference. She further added that they "are actively exploring alternatives for Code 2019 should these issues not be resolved", acknowledging that there are problems now serious enough to consider a relocation. But just not until next year. The conference kicks off May 29, giving the organisers over two months to find a new location.

"Any organisation should think hard before giving its business to a hotel that treated me in the way I've described in my lawsuit," Pezqueda told Gizmodo in an email. "Why do they need to hold the conference there? Los Angeles has so many hotels to choose from."

Read the letter in full below:

To Kara Swisher, Peter Kafka, and the Organisers of the Code Conference:

Before Harvey Weinstein became the symbol of sexual harassment, Susan Fowler "detailed the sexism and harassment she faced at" Uber. "To paraphrase Uber SVP Frances Frei: As more and more people speak out about harassment in tech, the industry has a chance to capitalise on that openness. Whether it has the willpower to follow through remains an open question," wrote Eric Johnson for Recode. As workers in the tech industry, we could not agree more! Consequently, it is disappointing to see that Recode, Vox Media's tech business news site, is holding its Code Conference at the Terranea Resort.

A dishwasher who formerly worked for a temporary agency at the resort, Sandra Pezqueda, was named one of Time' People of the Year for 2017 as a "silence breaker." After she reported sexual harassment by a supervisor, Sandra was fired. She is currently suing the Terranea and the staffing agency that employed her alleging violations of her civil rights. A court trial is scheduled for June.

What kind of message does it send to the tech community if our bosses and coworkers spend several days and thousands of dollars to wine and dine and celebrate themselves at the Terranea Resort while these allegations remain outstanding? Is it enough to challenge patriarchy and racism in our industry, but not support the people challenging these structures who clean our hotel rooms, wash our dishes, or cook our food?

For too long, workers fighting for dignity at work have quietly taken their employers to court or to the government, seeking restitution which sometimes demanded their own silence. The explosion of attention to Tarana Burke's #MeToo hashtag has shown the potentially transformative power of solidarity. It is time for us in the tech industry to use our power and privilege to support those struggling for respect on the job and oppose bad bosses with all the means at our disposal. Now, Recode and tech workers must stand with Sandra and Terranea workers and cease business at the Terranea until Sandra's claims are addressed.

Moving the Code Conference from the Terranea may seem challenging, but it must be done. We know that companies often care more about their customers and their bottom line than their employees. Already, AOL/Oath moved its MAKERS Conference out of the Terranea under public pressure. Will Vox Media and Recode follow their lead and stand with Sandra?

Sincerely,

The Tech Workers Coalition

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