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Bay Area hotel workers face anti-immigrant attack
Threatened for speaking out

November 17, 2006 | Page 2

WORKERS AT the Woodfin Hotel in Emeryville, Calif., next door to Oakland, have been repeatedly threatened with layoffs because they demanded that management respect a new living-wage ordinance.

Now management claims it has received letters from the Department of Homeland Security saying some workers have problems with the Social Security numbers they submitted. Woodfin is threatening to fire these workers--in reality, because they have been speaking up for their rights at this non-union hotel.

Woodfin workers and their community, union and religious supporters have repeatedly picketed the hotel and marched into the lobby, demanding management not fire any workers.

On November 15, workers are taking Woodfin to court to stop the harassment. More actions are planned in what is becoming a key fight for both labor and the immigrant rights movement in the Bay Area.

Housekeeping workers ALMA CRUZ and MARIA MARTINEZ, and SARAH NORR of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy talked to Socialist Worker's POLY MANOLI and TODD CHRETIEN about the Woodfin Hotel fight.

What you can do

Contact Woodfin CEO Samuel Hardage and ask that the hotel respect workers rights--call 858-794-2338 ext. 700 or fax 858-794-2348. For more information on the struggle, contact Sarah Norr at 510-435-9475 or [email protected].

 

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CAN YOU tell us how long you've worked at the Woodfin Suites, and how your struggle began?

Alma: I've worked for one year and two months in the Woodfin Suites Hotel housekeeping department.

Our struggle started in the spring of 2005 with the passage of Measure C in Emeryville, which was supposed to provide a $9 minimum wage for workers in hotels with over 50 guests, as well as overtime provisions for workers who cleaned more than 5,000 square feet of floor space.

Hotel management refused to pay us the new rates, so we formed an organization of employees and started to discuss how we could win our rights. As soon as we started to assert ourselves, management started to harass us; for instance, they changed our shifts and gave us more work.

Now they are demanding our immigration documents in order to keep working here. They never asked us for our papers before. I asked my manager why this was, and he said, "Look, we're in the United States, and this is what we have to do." No matter what question we ask them now, they say, "We're in the United States, and this is the law."

HOW MANY workers in the hotel are participating in this fight?

Alma: All the housekeeping workers are involved, about 50 of us, but not the other workers at the hotel. Some of the workers in the office or in the kitchen or in security support us, but they aren't participating actively.

Probably this is because management is pressuring them. They are threatening to fire us, so other people are worried.

WE WERE at a solidarity picket line in front of the hotel a few weeks ago and noticed that many workers were waving sheets and towels out of the windows in support of the protest. You don't even have a union to protect you, so this seemed like a very courageous thing to do. Do you think this is an impact of the immigrant rights movement and the May 1 mass protests?

Alma: Yes, it's like this: If we stand up for our rights here, then it won't just help us, it will help many people who work in other places. This isn't just a fight for hotel workers, but for workers who work in other places as well.

We are very few here in this hotel, but if the people realize that we can win by uniting, that will have a big impact. We can help people realize that they have to inform themselves of their rights and then defend them, no matter where they work.

Maria: I've worked in the hotel for over six years. They've treated us very badly for years. The management has always had a very racist attitude toward us, but they've never threatened to fire so many people at once before.

Except for one of us, we're all women in the housekeeping department, and all but two of us are Latinas. The other two women are from Mongolia, and they are participating with us. We are right, and we're not going to let the hotel pressure us into keeping quiet. Even some of the guests are supporting us.

THERE IS a court hearing November 15 to decide on the implementation of Measure C. What are you planning for that?

Alma: After all the protests that have happened, management assured us they wouldn't fire anyone until after this court date, which will decide if they are not respecting our rights and paying us the right wages.

Sarah: We hope to prove that Woodfin management is retaliating against individual workers here in Emeryville because they are demanding their rights under Measure C. However, it's difficult to prove that it's retaliation because Woodfin management is using "no match" letters to threaten workers in many of their hotels.

Their excuse is that the Department of Homeland Security is changing its rules. It used to be that employers were not responsible for checking their employees' Social Security numbers. If there was a problem, it was between the worker and the government.

Now Homeland Security wants to turn each employer into an immigration agent, and this is a huge threat to millions of workers. It also gives employers a huge tool to threaten workers who are speaking up for their rights, like they're doing here.

But even with the new rules, Woodfin has no reason to fire workers who have problems with their Social Security numbers. All they have to do is report this to Homeland Security. So we feel management really is using this as an excuse to threaten workers who are speaking up for themselves.

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