Don’t try crossing a Castlewood picket line

June 30, 2011

PLEASANTON, Calif.--It was a sunny morning on June 23, and the owners of Castlewood Country Club had just finished breakfast and were loading into golf carts to kick off their yearly men's invitational golf tournament.

They expected a leisurely day of golf with their friends from around the country. Instead, they got a picket by 150 angry union members and a giant golf cart traffic jam.

Food service and janitorial workers at Castlewood have been locked out of their jobs for 16 months. Workers come to Castlewood every day to keep owners on notice that they're still there and still angry about the lockout.

The June 23 picket seemed like it would be like any other day. A silent crowd gathered at 7:30 a.m. on all four corners of the intersection of Foothill Road and Sunol Drive. The Pleasanton Interfaith community was there, as was AFSCME 3299, EBASE, ILWU Local 6, UFCW Local 5, OPEIU Local 29 and several state UNITE HERE locals.

At 8 a.m., the crowd raised a cry of "End the lockout now!" and 25 people sat down in the middle of Castlewood Drive, linking arms and draping themselves with a cardboard chain.

Four county sheriffs at the intersection called for backup, and five minutes later, the Castlewood owners and their friends had arrived in a big line of golf carts. When golfers tried to enter the course by cutting through the shrubbery, activists quickly moved and sat down, plugging access to the golf course.

The golf carts began to pile up at the intersection, slowing trucks traveling along Foothill Road. Several truck drivers honked loudly and raised fists in support of the pickets. Workers started chanting "No justice! No peace!"

Irate golfers got out of their carts and started taking "practice" swings with their clubs. One golfer drove his cart aggressively at the line of people standing and sitting in the road only to be stopped by pickets standing peacefully.

At 8:20 a.m., country club management sent groundskeepers to cut through the course's own fence, and more carts headed north to try and get onto the course. But protesters were able to keep them back. Some golfers were aggressive, one swerving toward the picket line.

By 9 a.m., local news helicopters were circling overhead, and police reinforcements had arrived. As the police blocked off the road, those who had been blocking access marched back to the intersection and sat back down.

Jessica Rios, from Cal State East Bay, was enthusiastic about the action and said she would "take the things she has learned back to campus."

Picketer Maricruz Manzanerez from AFSCME Local 3299, representing janitors and groundskeepers at the University of California Berkeley, described the civil disobedience: "They cut all their own chains along the road so they can get through. We were dancing side to side, so they had no chance but to push the carts through a big ditch and they got stuck."

Manzanerez quickly added, "It's not funny really though, they might have hit us trying to push us away. It's only funny now because nothing happened."

Picketers continued chanting and rallying, and formed a moving picket line blocking the whole intersection.

LOCKED-OUT Castlewood worker Francisca Carranza described the difficulties workers face:

It's very hard because we are used to bringing home a paycheck. It's hard living off strike funds or unemployment. It's hard to pay rent or provide new clothes. We've had to cut college, and even day-to-day things like having a hamburger once in a while.

Union members knew it would be hard, but when country club manager Jim Clouser demanded 35 percent of their monthly wages for their children's health care plans, they knew they had to fight back.

Carranza said it was difficult at first, but that the solidarity from other unions and supporters showed them that "we're not alone. It's amazing the community is so willing to help us out. That's not something that we can say for those we served for years."

Although Castlewood workers are hurting, the country club is also taking its share of punishment. After workers picketed a wedding--staying silent for the ceremony--there have been no more weddings at Castlewood.

The union estimates that the country club has lost at least 12 golf tournaments, at a cost of $40,000 each. Local 2850 President Wei-Ling Huber said, "We estimate that the amount that this union-busting director has spent on lawyers and security and lost business is three times the cost of signing the contract."

Huber continued, "This is not about money; this is an ideological fight. This is about union busting." But Castlewood picked the wrong union to bust.

Huber also talked about UNITE HERE's efforts to sustain long strikes: "The Frontier strike, at seven years, was the longest-running strike in America, until it was beaten by our strike on the Congress Hotel."

Several picketers said that the union's reputation from Castlewood has made other local employers sign deals quickly. The June 23 action showed that the Castlewood struggle has energized other unions and labor's allies in the community and built bonds that will be important for other struggles.

All 25 who sat down didn't budge when police in full riot gear came to arrest them. When the riot police arrived, UNITE HERE organizer Sarah Norr asked, "What's the bigger crime? Standing in the street for a couple of hours or kicking 64 workers out of a job for over a year!"

The police arrested the activists, but picketers vowed that more will keep coming. As the many unions and other supporters showed today, solidarity is the only thing that can win us a decent life and decent health care for our families.

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