NLRB issues complaint against Castlewood

September 8, 2011

PLEASANTON, Calif.--Castlewood Country Club is continuing its 18-month lockout of food service and janitorial workers despite a complaint issued August 26 by the National Relations Labor Board (NLRB) that management's strong-arm tactics are unlawful.

According to the complaint, Castlewood has denied "the locked-out employees the right to return to their former positions of employment because the locked-out employees joined and/or supported the union, and to discourage employees from engaging in union activities."

Rather than allow the members of UNITE HERE Local 2850 to return to their jobs, Castlewood management has predictably elected to take the case to court and prolong the attack, even though it runs the risk of further penalties and back pay owed to workers.

Locked-out workers showed up at the Castlewood clubhouse in full uniform ready to return to work on September 3, but management still refused to end the illegal lockout. Around 80 supporters joined the picket line and marched around the club in a spirited show of solidarity. The golf courses echoed with drumbeats and chants of "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

Alfredo Valadez, one of the locked-out workers, said that seeing so many people gave him strength. "The [labor board complaint] is a big step toward victory, and we are close to reaching our goal," said Valadez.

Francisca Carranza, another locked-out worker, said country club members must realize that their attempts to thwart the union have failed and will continue to fail. "We started out fighting for health care and benefits," she says, "but now we are fighting for our dignity."

Before the lockout, Castlewood workers, many of whom have worked at the country club for 10 or more years, were already working additional jobs to supplement their income. Now, many have had to pick up two or three extra jobs to support themselves and their families during the lockout.

Withstanding an 18-month lockout has not been easy. But Valadez contends that the workers and union local have been putting pressure on management from all directions, including a boycott of the country club. The workers have reached out to the labor movement and the community and are receiving solidarity from religious groups, UNITE HERE locals and other unions, such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

Even the mayor of Pleasanton has come out in support of the workers--although he hasn't called off the police presence outside the picket line. Workers and their supporters have regular pickets in front of the clubhouse twice a day, six days a week, despite harassment from club members, management and police officers alike.

"Throughout history, all labor movements are about persistence," explains Michael Yonke, a Castlewood worker for 14 years. Fred Pecker, a member of ILWU Local 6 who came to the picket line to show his solidarity, said, "It's one thing to be proud of your tradition, but it's another thing to be continuing it...The whole union has been pushing the legal strategy and the economic boycott, but the workers are setting the example because they've been out here for 18 months."

Workers believe that Castlewood management can't hold out forever. Management "puts on a show like nothing hurts them, but they've been having problems since the boycott," said Valadez. The club's stubbornness has already cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, media consultants and loss of revenue due to tournaments and companies that have pulled sponsorship from the club.

With the club getting desperate for revenue, it has been forced to make its facilities nearly open to the public. Additionally, some club members are now siding with the locked-out workers and suggesting that maintaining the lockout isn't financially viable. Castlewood management claims not to have the funds to pay its workers fairly, but it has been more than willing to front the costs of maintaining the lockout.

A June 23 civil disobedience action at the country club that involved around 300 supporters sitting down on the club's main thoroughfare, Castlewood Avenue, blocked traffic during the club's biggest annual tournament. As a result of the action, 24 civil disobedience participants spent 12 hours or more in a Santa Rita jail. But the action was also a sign of the power and support at the Castlewood workers' disposal.

THE FIGHT at Castlewood has gone on for 18 months after UNITE HERE members refused to accept an attack on workplace rights and living standards. Management challenged the seniority system to gain more control over the workers in the workplace.

Also, before the lockout, Castlewood workers paid nothing for health insurance coverage, but the club is now demanding that they pay $739 per month for family medical coverage. This is a tough pill to swallow for workers who got an average wage of $12.50 an hour at Castlewood. The extra cost of insurance would force workers and their families to decide between health care and rent.

Despite their already difficult situation, workers have compromised to the extent of agreeing to pay a full $200 of their monthly wage for family medical coverage. But management hasn't budged.

In fact, the compromise is already too generous. The club is more than profitable enough to pay for the workers' modest demands. But this fight isn't about money--it's about breaking the union.

To locked-out workers and UNITE HERE representatives, this became clear when management demanded the effective end of seniority, the right to lay off long-term workers and the ability to hire sub-contracted non-union workers. Moreover, management has insinuated to workers several times that if they de-certified their union, they would be allowed to go back to work.

Peggy Duthie, another locked-out Castlewood worker of 25 years, said, "I just want to be a loyal union member. We're treated like dirt if we're not union." When Duthie joined Woolworth's in 1952, her non-unionized pay was $19.21 per week and she worked nine hours a day. "That's what we don't want to go back to," she said, "That's slavery."

Castlewood workers are determined to stay out one day longer and one day stronger. Show your support by getting informed about the struggle by visiting the "End the Castlewood Lockout!" website.

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