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Talks breaking down between workers, KSL

By Devona Walker, Daily Planet staff
Saturday March 30, 2002

The ongoing battle between Claremont Spa workers and management of the KSL Recreation corporation came to a head on Friday after months of failed negotiations and the well-intentioned interventions of both Berkeley and Oakland’s city councils. 

Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 2850, AFL-CIO and Claremont Spa workers launched “ Web site and held an Easter Bunny demonstration on Friday outside the Claremont Resort and Spa, on Ashby at Claremont Ave. in Oakland.  


After Friday’s protest the two appeared to be no closer to reaching an agreement on whether spa workers will be able to vote on unionization by card check or by a standard vote, which spa workers and union representatives say is a process that allows for an environment of corporate intimidation. 

“It seems pretty clear to me that KSL does not plan on allowing for a card check,” said Oakland Vice Mayor Jane Brunner. “And I know from past experience that it is very difficult for an individual to negotiate with a corporation like KSL.”  

Brunner, in addition to serving on the Oakland City Council is also a labor attorney in the city, and coincidentally happened to represent a group of Claremont workers in a civil suit against management several years ago. Shortly after Claremont was originally purchased by the KSL Recreation Corp. several workers, many older than 50 years of age were fired. Brunner represented those workers in an age discrimination suit against KSL. The workers were awarded punitive damages but in most cases were not allowed to return to work. 

On Feb. 5, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution supporting Claremont Spa workers efforts to unionize with a union card check as opposed to going through the process of a vote-in procedure. Since then, two of the four workers allegedly laid off due to their efforts to unionize have actually been allowed to return to work. On Tuesday, March 23 Oakland’s council passed a similar resolution — reaffirming the union’s claim that a card check method would help insure that workers are not intimidated and discouraged from joining the union that already represents the majority of the staff at Claremont. 

According to Liz Oakley, a union representative for Local 2850, there was great hopes that this move would be the straw that broke the camel’s back considering that Claremont is actually located in Oakland. This is not, however, Oakland’s first effort to intervene at Claremont. Brunner has approximately 800 names and addresses of people who live around Claremont and “most likely use their services” and keeps them abreast of the ensuing negotiations between management and workers. 

“We have political power, that’s all,” Brunner said, adding that the city of Oakland, or Berkeley for that matter, cannot force the hand of KSL. “But many of the people who live around there are people who would go to the Spa. But they are also very progressive. We have politically conscious community members in Berkeley and here in Oakland, and we will continue to keep them aware of the manner that KSL treats their workers.” 

But other than political pressure Brunner and Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean both concede there is nothing that either city can do to further the cause of spa workers 

Stephanie Ruby, Local 2850, said that despite the limitations of powers that the two cities have their interventions have been helping the cause. 

“Since Berkeley passed its resolution two workers have been asked to return to work. So it does help. And we think it’s just tremendous that Oakland has chosen unanimously to support us as well.” 

But the last week has not proven to be fruitful for either sides. 

In response to the Oakland resolution, KSL released a statement contesting the legality of the resolution passed by Council.  

At Friday’s protest, unlike demonstration’s in the past, KSL management refused to comment on the ongoing negotiations and would not confirm or deny whether communications have entirely broken down. 

Leslie Fitzgerald, a massage therapist at Claremont Resort for nearly eight years was suspended from work along with three other co-workers for handing out leaflets to Claremont hotel guests. The leaflets informed hotel guests about the working conditions for spa workers and their efforts to union organize, according to Ruby. But statements released by KSL have stated that the leaflets contained “union propaganda,” according to a KSL spokes person.  

At this point, as Local 2850 takes an even more aggressive stance with launching a full-service Web site capable of disseminating information to a much broader audience then hotel guest or the 800 neighbors living around the spa, KSL remains silent. They still, however, contend they will not allow card-check to replace a vote-in procedure, and the two remaining workers suspended for alleged union organizing have not been called back to work. 

“They are the outsider in all this,” Ruby said. “The community is clearly saying: ‘You can’t pay people poverty wages. You can’t walk all over other people’s rights to free speech and right to organize.’ ” 

At this point negotiations would seemingly have to get better to avoid a full-scale strike, said Brunner, adding that she has no inside knowledge on what the union’s or management’s intentions are. 

“I have worked with them in the past, and I know how they operate. I think if they were interested in having a card check it would have happened. The people who are making the decisions for KSL are not here and are not necessarily being inconvenienced,” Brunner said, adding that she does not know how long it will take, from past experience, for management to begin to feel the heat. 

“This is the exact reason that unions are so important to the individual because it’s only a beginning when it comes to leveling the playing field,” she added. But Brunner said she hopes everyone thinks long and hard before making any decisions on a strike because of the added risk it will pose for the employees and their families.