Castlewood lockout turns one

Workers at Castlewood have launched a widening boycott campaign as they fight for jobs with dignity at Castlewood Country Club, reports Alessandro Tinonga.

Castlewood workers and supporters marked the one-year anniversary of the lockout with a protest  (Alessandro Tinonga | SW)Castlewood workers and supporters marked the one-year anniversary of the lockout with a protest (Alessandro Tinonga | SW)

DESPITE THE odds, union workers at Castlewood Country Club continue to fight for justice after being locked out for an entire year.

The lockout of 61 food service and janitorial workers began on February 25, 2010, as the union and the club management were in the midst of contract negotiations. Despite the union's offer of concessions that would have saved the club $10,000 a month on wages and benefits, management refused to back down on their plans to gut health care, insisting that workers accept a $739 increase for family medical care.

"I've worked hard to serve club members for 10 years," said Castlewood cook Angel Melendez. "I never imagined they would throw me out in the street for a year, just because I want to be able to take my son to the doctor when he gets sick."

Not long before the lockout, management began to show what their ultimate goal was--to smash the union. For example, in the days leading up to the lockout, club management passed around a petition to the workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850, and pressured them to sign. Although the workers were told that the petition would allow them to vote on their union contract, it turned out to be a petition to decertify the union.

After the company got enough signatures, the National Labor Relations Board held an election for workers to decide whether or not to kick out the union. "All of a sudden all the managers were being really nice to us," said Alfredo Valadez. "While we were marching in front of the club, every day, some of the managers were inviting us over for a party. They wanted to convince us to vote against the union."

The club also held meetings to assure workers that they could return to their jobs if they decertified the union. Management's tactics failed, however, and the workers voted 41 to 17 to keep the union.

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FOR THE past year, Castlewood workers have faced an uphill battle. According to the union, Castlewood has already spent more than $300,000 on legal fees and media consultants to wage the lockout--and they plan to spend more. Despite the near-daily presence of picket lines in front of the dining room or next to the golf course, management has shown no sign of letting up.

In addition to increasing the cost of health care to $839 a month, it demanded the effective end of seniority, the right to lay off long-term workers and the ability to hire subcontracted nonunion workers. The club also engaged in regressive bargaining during the fall negotiations, which is an unfair labor practice.

"How could anyone accept that deal?" asked Peggy Ruthie, who has worked at Castlewood for 25 years. "It's not fair. They want to try to fire us for any reason. We're not slaves."

The vast majority of customers and clientele at the Castlewood Country Club generally have met the workers' calls for support with contempt and nastiness. Though some have expressed support and have even stopped by the picket line to personally donate food, most choose to remain willfully ignorant to the workers' plight.

During a spring campaign by workers to ask club members to sign petitions of support, many of the clients had no idea that some of the people that served them for years were on the picket line every day. Two club members, for example, asked picketers whether the union would allow one of their favorite waiters to work at the club again. They were astonished to find that 50 feet away, that very worker was marching to defend his rights as a union member.

In other instances, club members have shown active hostility, hurling verbal abuse or even ice or food at the workers. One worker was spat on by a club member. During a three-day hunger strike, one club member taunted a worker by eating a plate of food in front of her. The hunger striker refused to be broken.

To commemorate a year of resistance, more than 150 community members, clergy, public officials and members of other unions joined Castlewood workers in a picket of the club's valley golf course. The picket line was so long that it slowed traffic for hundreds of yards.

"It hasn't felt like a year when we have you guys." said Francisca Carranza. "We've been struggling every day and night, hot, cold, rain and shine. There are hardly enough words to express our gratitude. We have friends for life here."

The anniversary rally was emblematic of the support and solidarity that has helped sustain the Castlewood workers in their battle for union rights and decent work. For the past year, the workers and the union have been organizing a boycott campaign to put financial pressure on the club.

Appeals for support have been answered by some of the club's most important clients. Unionized workers from the Ghirardelli Chocolate factory, for example, urged their employer to move their annual company golf tournament elsewhere. St. Mary's College withdrew its events from the club and said it would not return until the lockout is ended.

When the Castlewood workers approached the Oakland Athletics during their golf tournament at the club, the team promised that they would not cross the picket line again. Recently, the NFL Players' Association (NFLPA) wrote a letter to management to express their dismay at the lockout. The Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers are also being urged by the NFLPA to look elsewhere for their yearly golf tournaments.

"Boycotts start to work more effectively in their second year," said Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE Local 2850. "Some of these events at the club can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars."

The Castlewood workers have held strong for a year despite the odds. With support continuing to grow and the boycott campaign picking up steam, the resolve of the workers does not appear to be fading any time soon.

"After a year of fighting, the club's finances are a disaster, and the workers are stronger than ever," said Angel Melendez. "We've learned how powerful we can be when we stand together, and how much the whole community backs us up. We'll be out here another 10 years if that's what it takes to win a contract that's fair for our families."