Thanks-taking at Castlewood

December 1, 2010

Alessandro Tinonga reports on the struggle of locked-out workers facing union-busting tactics at the Castlewood Country Club in the Bay Area.

LOCKED-OUT workers and their allies gave a quiet Bay Area town plenty to talk about just before Thanksgiving, as more than a hundred people marched down the streets of Pleasanton, Calif., to protest a nine-month lockout at the Castlewood Country Club.

The workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850, have been fighting to get their jobs back since the company locked them out on February 25 for not accepting a $739 increase in family medical care during contract negotiations.

Representatives from a dozen local unions, local officials and members of the community joined the workers in a colorful parade in downtown Pleasanton to call on the company to end the lockout in time for the holidays.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, clergy and lay leaders from eight local churches gathered food baskets for the locked-out workers' families and conducted a prayer service for the Castlewood managers to open their hearts to the workers. Commenting on the outpouring of community support Local 2850 President Wei-Ling Huber said, "When we started this fight we were welcomed by the city, the faith community, the labor movement...The support has kept us going."

Locked-out Castlewood workers and their supporters march through the streets of Pleasanton, Calif.
Locked-out Castlewood workers and their supporters march through the streets of Pleasanton, Calif. (Brooke Anderson)

Facing what is now the longest U.S. lockout in the last five years, the workers are fighting to remain a union shop. It is now clear that the Castlewood board of directors and country club General Manager Jerry Olson are trying to get rid of UNITE HERE Local 2850.

"Before the fight started, the managers started bad-mouthing the union in front of the workers," said Alfredo Valadez, one of the locked-out workers. "The company sent around a petition that they said would allow us to vote on the union contract." The petition turned out to be one to decertify the union.

When the company got enough signatures, a decertification vote was held in April. In an attempt to sway the vote, the company held meetings for the locked-out workers where managers promised to let all employees return to their jobs if they voted to decertify the union. "They were so nice to us all of a sudden," said Valadez. "One of the managers offered us over to a fiesta and barbeque. But it didn't work."

On April 2, the workers voted 41-17 to keep their union. The club filed objections to the election, alleging that workers were paid or threatened to vote for the union, but an administrative law judge found no merit to their allegations, and the election was upheld.

A month later, Castlewood sought to get a temporary restraining order to quiet the union's daily pickets at the club. The court denied the request.

DESPITE THESE victories against the company's maneuvers, workers still face a very hard battle. Early in the fight, the union offered major contract concessions that would have saved the club $10,000 a month on wages and benefits. They were rejected by management.

Castlewood is now engaged in regressive bargaining. In August, the club met with the union and presented new proposals that would give management the right to lay off long-time workers and keep newer employees. The club explained that it wanted to keep some of the temporary workers hired during the lockout, and that some of the locked-workers would not be rehired.

"They locked us out because we wanted fair rules," said Peggy Ruthie, who has worked at Castlewood for 25 years and potentially would not be rehired under the new proposals. "This country is only great because unions fought for workers to get their fair share."

Castlewood is spending massive amount of funds to make the club union-free. Its first negotiator David Murphy has a history of representing employers in disputes with UNITE HERE--including a failed eight-year campaign to prevent San Francisco Marriott Hotel workers from unionizing. In 2004 and 2005,

Murphy earned $525 per hour for his time for representing Paramount Hospitality Management. If he still charges the same rate, each hour that he charges the Castlewood for things like negotiating, consulting with management or board members, attending board meetings, writing briefs and preparing proposals could pay for a worker's health care for a month.

The board also hired Burdzinski & Partners, a management consulting firm that describes its services as "helping employers fight unions."

Daily pickets and the boycott campaign are having an impact on the company. Workers have been going out into the community to spread the word about their struggle in the hopes that vendors will not cross the picket line. "It's definitely having an effect," said Francisca Carranza, a janitor at Castlewood. "The prom from Livermore High School was moved. Folks from Fremont Bank, Ohlone College and Washington Hospital honored the boycott and respected our line."

In a July message to members, the club said that it had already spent or lost about $400,000 as a result of the dispute.

Still, club management has been unrelenting in keeping workers out of a job and without a paycheck. Castlewood remains hostile to the union despite losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The workers hope that they can outlast the company and make the lockout more costly than busting the union.

Solidarity and support are the pillars that keep the workers' campaign going. At the Thanksgiving march and rally, the machinists' union, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 and the Alameda County Central Labor Council donated gift cards to union grocery stores for the holiday food drive for Castlewood workers. A member from ILWU initiated a collection that raised $1,300 in a day.

"Solidarity has helped pay bills and feed families," said President Huber. "Nobody has lost a home or a car since the lockout began."

Francisca Carranza added, "The last nine months have been hard, but thanks to our union, we've been able to survive. Without all of you, we wouldn't be here."

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