It wasn’t your typical ribbon-cutting at the Berkeley Marina Radisson Hotel Wednesday night. The giant scissors union organizer Stephanie Ruby held were inscribed “peace” and “justice.”
Hotel management, union activists and employees had come together for what they called a “grand re-opening” celebration at the restaurant. The hotel hadn’t been shuttered, but it had been boycotted by the city government, the community and labor unions while employees fought for a union, then for a contract.
“We’re celebrating the end of the boycott and inviting the community to patronize the hotel,” said Ruby, an organizer with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2850.
Management did not stay away from the celebration, which included food prepared by the unionized Radisson chefs and music by the Loco Bloco Drum & Dance Ensemble of San Francisco.
“Everyone worked really hard at getting the contract,” said Brij Misra, the hotel’s general manager. “We were able to hammer out a contract that was good for all the employees.” Misra said now he is able to pay more attention to running the hotel and the employees are able to concentrate singularly on taking care of the patrons.
Restaurant worker Sy Dovangphoxay was among those celebrating. He talked about how, before the union was formed, he had wanted to visit his sick mother in Laos. “They said you can quit your job and reapply,” he said.
Now he said he would be able to take a leave without fear of retribution.
Dovangphoxay also talked about his own growth, as he became not only a union supporter, but an organizer. “I never thought I could do what I did, like speak at a City Council meeting,” he said.
Housekeeper Bonnie Dideman was there too. “It’s a big event,” she said, noting that since the contract was signed, she has received health benefits, a pension and a promise of fewer rooms to clean.
Father Bill O’Donnell was there and so was Councilmember Kriss Worthington. Both had been in early negotiations with hotel management and had sat in at a protest in the hotel lobby singing pro-union Christmas carols in December 1999.
O’Donnell said he was “still mad at the Radisson management” because of the hardships suffered by the workers. Still, the activist-priest from St. Joseph’s Church quoted Ghandi: “We don’t intend to bring our enemy to their knees, just to their senses.”