Concord hotel workers fight back

August 3, 2009

CONCORD, Calif.--Workers at the Holiday Inn Concord are fighting management's attempts to drastically increase the cost of their health care.

For more than 13 months, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 have been in negotiations with the Holiday Inn to renew their contract, with the most pressing issue being maintaining an affordable health care plan.

The hotel's proposal would raise a single worker's health insurance costs from nothing to $67.47 per month, and from $40 to $743.69 for a worker with two or more dependents. Housekeepers earn $9.35 per hour, so it's unlikely that they would be able to afford to cover their families.

The hotel proposal would also raise the number of hours needed to qualify for benefits from 80 hours per month to 120 per month, so that some workers who work five shifts a week would no longer qualify for medical insurance.

In February 2009, more than 90 percent of workers voted down the hotel's proposal. In March, they called for a boycott of the hotel. The launch of the boycott brought out more than 150 supporters, along with growing support from the community, the Contra Costa Labor Council and even members of the Concord City Council.

Management made their "last, best and final" proposal on July 1. Starting August 1, workers who wanted to include their family members on the hotel medical plan will have to pay the increased costs.

Workers like Maria, who has worked in the Holiday Inn housekeeping department for almost 20 years, can no longer afford to cover their dependents after having had affordable medical insurance for decades at the hotel. "I can't afford to cover my disabled husband's medical insurance," she said. "I don't know what we will do if he has to go to the hospital again."

The general counsel of the Labor Board was prepared to issue a complaint against the hotel, alleging that the hotel management had made changes to the proposal without bargaining with the union, including changing workers' shifts and hours, threatening workers who were leafleting customers with arrest and retaliating against a worker who brought up issues during negotiations.

The hotel settled the allegations, and the regional staff calculated and made sure the hotel paid out the back pay owed to workers as a result of the changes. Additional charges are pending before the NLRB.

Workers' fight to maintain union standards is especially important during the economic crisis. As thousands of California families are being put on waiting lists to access the California Healthy Families Safety Net, the fight for affordable health care in the workplace can help stem the tide of hardship on the working class.

Only three of the seven hotels in the Concord/Walnut Creek area are union. Victory for the Holiday Inn Concord workers can give hope and strength to other hotel workers in the area.

Workers need more support and solidarity. Management won't back down from its dramatic increase in the cost of the workers' health plan without more action and pressure from other workers and the community.

Workers planned a rally and action on July 31 in front of the hotel. Call the Holiday Inn Concord owner at 949-859-0166 and ask for Kevin Akash. Demand the workers get a fair contract with affordable health care.

Lian Alan, Nischit Hegde and Jillian Marks contributed to this article.

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