Aug 31, 2021 - Economy

Fortune cancels CEO conference amid labor strife

Fortune CEO Alan Murray

Fortune CEO Alan Murray. Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Time Inc.

Fortune has canceled an upcoming CEO conference in Washington, D.C., after the magazine's own employees threatened to picket over labor issues.

Behind the scenes: An internal memo suggested the cancellation came after it became apparent that two speakers, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, would boycott due to the company's conflict with its employee union.

  • But a Labor Department spokesperson says Walsh was never confirmed to appear and adds that he would not have crossed a picket line.
  • A spokesperson for the Commerce Department says Raimondo was also never expected to attend.
  • The memo from Fortune CEO Alan Murray never explicitly said that Walsh or Raimondo would attend (although at least Raimondo was pictured on the conference website). He did note, however, that Fortune's employee union had secured commitments from Walsh to boycott and that "it is known that Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo will also boycott the event."
  • In short: Fortune was hosting the event in D.C. in order to secure political participation, and it became apparent that the union had scuttled that opportunity.

Why it matters: Fortune is heavily reliant on conferences, so canceling an event — even one that's more about prestige than revenue — is a giant black eye. Particularly given that it already had canceled another September event due to travel difficulties tied to COVID-19.

  • It's also the latest escalation in a fight between the union and the company, which was bought in 2018 for $150 million by Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon.
  • The two sides have been engaged in an increasingly tense negotiation over everything from benefits to traffic quotas to inclusivity initiatives.
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