Locked out but still fighting
PLEASANTON, Calif.-- Members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 rallied on August 26--the 184th day of their lockout by the Castlewood Country Club. Picketers chanted, "Hey there, Starship, you were fine, until you crossed our picket line!" (Ironically, the rock band Starship was performing at the club to benefit the Open Heart Kitchen, whose slogan is "Feeding the hungry of the Tri-Valley.")
According to banquet waiter Sergio Gonzalez, attendance at the annual dinner banquet was way down from the packed crowd last year, due to the consistent picket line, community solidarity and boycott. Wei-Ling Huber, an organizer for Local 2850, said, "We are having an effect on their bottom line. The first month of the boycott cost the Club $400,000. They could have spent that money on workers' health care."
In one of the largest of the daily pickets, 50 workers and supporters circled the intersection leading to the club entrance, then marched up the hill to chant at the entrance so concert-goers could hear. They were met by General Manager Jerry Olsen, who threatened a "citizens' arrest" if workers entered the area. He was in direct violation of a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that the streets in front of the club are, in fact, not private property, and the club has no right to stop workers from picketing there.
The unreasonable and unethical strategy of the club is part of a clear attempt to bust the union. Castlewood is the only country club in the area to have a union, one that has been in operation for 30 years. Some employees have worked in the kitchen for 25 years.
According to employee Alfredo Valadez, relations were congenial until the Castlewood board of directors hired the current managerial staff, which no longer even greeted workers on the job.
Tensions came to a head during contract negotiations earlier this year. On February 25, all 61 workers were locked out after refusing to accept management's "last best" offer. This offer called for workers to contribute $739 per month for family health insurance on an average wage of $12.50 per hour, clearly an untenable offer. Since most workers provide health insurance for a family, this is a critical issue.
Management claimed that if they had to continue to pay for employees' health care with a union contract, fees for members, many of whom are known to workers, would increase 200 percent or more, from $550 per month to $2,000 per month. Workers have called this a lie.
The union's offer, from the original free health care workers enjoyed, was for workers to contribute $350 per month for health care--and that was rejected by management.
In an attempt to sway workers during a union decertification vote, management threatened that workers would lose their jobs if they voted to keep the union, and threatened some with deportation. In spite of this effort at intimidation, the election failed to decertify the union by a vote of 41-15.
As Valadez said, "Everyone here has a story about health care. One woman's husband had a heart attack, and she can't afford his medication. We love to work here, we just can't afford what management wants us to pay for insurance."