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GMA Cancels  Executive Conference

Two world wars apparently couldn't stop it, but the threat of a labor strike has. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has cancelled its venerable GMA Executive Conference this year, which would have taken place June 6 to June 9 at its longtime venue, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.V.

Citing the failure of local labor unions and resort management to agree on a new contract, GMA president and c.e.o. Cal Dooley reluctantly informed potential conference attendees of the cancellation via e-mail last Friday.

"Although no strike has taken place to date, the threat of a work stoppage and the inability of the resort to guarantee the availability of the number and quality of staff required to facilitate our conference is the determining factor in our decision," wrote Dooley.

GMA's v.p. Sean McBride told Progressive Grocer that the organization was "extremely disappointed" to have to scrap the conference. McBride said the association's flagship event began in 1908, the year of GMA's founding. What's more, celebrations marking that centennial would have been on the agenda at this year's event.

Until this year, the gathering had apparently never been cancelled, despite such cataclysmic events as two world wars, McBride added.

The GMA's association with The Greenbrier goes back quite a few decades. The Executive Conference has been held at the world-class golf resort continuously since 1948. Prior to that, according to McBride, the conference was held in various locations in conjunction with board meetings.

McBride said the trade group has been aware of the ongoing labor dispute and had "explored alternatives" to The Greenbrier; but given the sheer size of the event - 800-plus attendees, accommodated for three or four nights - it could not find another resort to accommodate it on such short notice.

McBride said it was "premature" to comment on whether this year's conference would be rescheduled at The Greenbrier or anywhere else.

He did say the GMA hoped to continue its longstanding relationship with the resort's management. "They've been a great partner these 60 years," he noted; yet still the resort first had to get "its labor situation under control" before any planning for the future could happen.

Meanwhile, as regards the centennial, however, "We will hold that party," promised McBride. "We will be celebrating [the milestone] in a variety of ways at various events during the year."

Additionally, the association will now look ahead to the 2009 Executive Conference, which, according to McBride, will be "bigger and better."

The Greenbrier and more than 1,100 unionized employees have been engaged in negotiations for three months, after a five-year agreement expired at the end of January, according to local press reports.

The resort is the largest employer in Greenbrier County, WV. In addition to GMA, other long-term clients, including the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, The Greenbrier's biggest customer, have also cancelled conventions in the face of a possible strike. The resort was last hit with a labor strike in 1981, when union workers left their jobs for two months.
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