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On the picket line

May 11, 2007 | Page 15

Woodfin Hotel
Saigon Grill

Woodfin Hotel
By Jessie Muldoon

EMERYVILLE, Calif.--"We are immigrants, not criminals," Guadalupe Gonzalez, speaking through a translator, told a crowd of over 300 activists who came to protest the firing of 12 Woodfin Hotel employees on April 27.

The Woodfin Hotel has stubbornly refused to comply with a living-wage law that would improve wages and working conditions for hotel employees. All other major hotels in Emeryville have complied, and the workers at the Woodfin have been active and outspoken in their demand that their employer do the same.

Since the living-wage law came into effect, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a grassroots activist organization that led the initiative for the living-wage law, has led the campaign for justice at the Woodfin. Activists and workers have picketed, lobbied and pressured the Woodfin's corporate clients.

In December 2006, more than 20 workers were fired, but through activism and community support, were able to win their jobs back. In April, 200 supporters marched through the small city of Emeryville to alert the community and put pressure on the City Council to support the workers' demands for a fair wage.

In apparent retaliation, just days before the massive May Day marches, the Woodfin fired 12 employees who had been involved in the pickets and organizing efforts.

The Woodfin may have been counting on the recent ICE raids to scare the workers from fighting back, but instead, it seemed that the rallies buoyed support for the workers at the hotel. More than 300 people rallied, and more than 40 participated in a civil disobedience, including labor leaders, faith leaders and local politicians.

The struggle at the Woodfin isn't over, and activists will continue to put pressure on the Woodfin to abide by the living-wage law.

To support the workers and donate to the hardship fund, visit

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Saigon Grill
By Geoff Bailey

NEW YORK--More than 150 students from six campuses took part in a sit-in to support locked-out delivery workers at the Saigon Grill.

Students entered one of restaurant chain's three locations in small groups. At a pre-arranged time, stood up on the tables, donned red T-shirts and began chanting, "Two dollars, no way! What do we want? Fair pay!"

A short statement was read and chanting continued for almost an hour, shutting down the restaurant until the police arrived and threatened arrest, at which point student marched outside to join the workers and other supporters.

The 36 delivery workers at Saigon Grill have been locked out since they began protesting low pay and unsafe working conditions. Workers at the restaurant were being paid as little as $1.60 an hour and were verbally and physically abused by the management. They reported being sent repeatedly into buildings where they were mugged, only to be told by management that they had to reimburse the restaurant for the lost orders.

The three locations of the Saigon Grill, meanwhile, make $2 million per month in profit. When workers, organized through the Chinese Staff and Workers' Association, threatened a lawsuit, management responded by locking them out.

"I gave more than 10 years of my life to this restaurant. The more money the owners made, the more they stole from us," said one of the locked-out workers.

Anthony Hang, a freshman at Hunter College, stressed that students should see this as their struggle as well. "I think it's important for students to realize that these are conditions that working students can face," says Hang, who worked as a part-time busboy last fall.

Pickets will continue and more actions are planned until the workers are rehired and their wages raised.

"When we started, it was very difficult," Yu Guan Ke, one of the locked-out workers, told Socialist Worker. "Little by little, other coworkers and delivery workers joined us because they faced the same conditions at their workplaces. We have overcome the hardest part, because now we know that all workers will come out and support and fight together for justice."

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