Ordered to pay a living wage

January 27, 2009

Jennifer Woloshyn reports on a recent victory for Woodfin Suites workers in their years-long struggle to get the hotel to honor a local living-wage ordinance.

EMERYVILLE, Calif.--Hotel workers here won a significant victory January 15 when the city council ordered Woodfin Suites Hotel to pay workers $200,000 in back wages.

Workers have been organizing for years to demand that Woodfin honor Measure C, a living-wage ordinance passed by voters in the Bay Area city of Emeryville in 2005. Under the ordinance, hotels are supposed to pay a modest minimum wage of $9 per hour, and pay time and a half if they force housekeepers to clean more than 5,000 square feet in one day.

Woodfin ignored the ordinance, forcing housekeepers to clean 17 suites per shift instead of limiting it to 10, as the square footage restriction required. Workers began with a petition drive in the nonunion, mostly immigrant workplace to demand their employer comply with the city ordinance.

When Woodfin management ignored the petition and began using intimidation tactics, workers took their struggle into the streets, organizing pickets and protests that included thousands of community supporters over the years.

Woodfin Suites workers organized several rallies and pickets of the hotel while fighting for justice
Woodfin Suites workers organized several rallies and pickets of the hotel while fighting for justice (Brooke Anderson)

This recent victory is all the more satisfying given Woodfin's ruthless tactics. Management has fired some of the worker organizers, using the pretext of "no-match" letters, and even called in Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose agents showed up at the home of one worker to humiliate and interrogate her in front of her family.

The first victory was forcing Woodfin to comply with the workload restrictions of the ordinance, but management still wouldn't admit to owing any back wages to current and former workers for the time period it didn't comply with the law. The current ruling comes after five days of city hall hearings, which began in November 2008.

This is a significant victory, but the struggle isn't over. Woodfin plans to challenge the ruling in court, so workers have vowed to continue the struggle until the money is in their hands.

"Our struggle for justice has lasted more than 1,000 days, and it's already been an inspiration to my children. I look forward to sharing this hard-earned money with my family when it finally arrives," said former Woodfin worker Luz D.

This struggle is an inspiration to anyone fighting for justice at work. Workers and their supporters will keep up the pressure until Woodfin Suites gives workers the wages and respect that they deserve.

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