NLRB will hear Claremont dispute

By Jamie Luck Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday May 09, 2002

The ongoing labor dispute between workers seeking to unionize and the Claremont Resort and Spa has now gone federal in the form of a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Claremont for unfair labor practices. The Labor Board has scheduled a hearing for August 26.  

The complaint comes after the Labor Board reviewed several charges of labor violations made by the Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union, Local 2850, against Claremont management and parent company KSL Recreation Corporation.  

The Board found those charges to be sound enough to issue its own complaint, for which Claremont/KSL is charged to respond by May 14 or be found guilty of all allegations made. The allegations made by the Labor Board against Claremont include: “Promulgating and maintaining overly broad rules restricting employees in the exercise of their rights [to organize]; making unlawful statements to employees; and discriminating against and disciplining employees because of their union activities.” 

Specific incidents cited in the complaint include interrogation by Claremont management of employees about union activities, promises to address grievances if employees ceased attempts to organize, threatening of employee benefits, disciplining employees for union activities through written warnings and suspensions, and barring off-duty employees from being at the workplace. Claremont also allegedly beefed up on security, and had at least on one occasion escorted off-duty workers from the premises and engaged in surveillance of employees organizing on public property. 

Claremont has filed a counter charge against the Local 2850, but the Labor Board has yet to draw any conclusions regarding it. While Claremont did not initially reply to calls from the Planet over the last week, it did fax a statement on Wednesday. “We support our spa employees’ right to make an informed decision on the issue of union representation,” the statement read. It also claims that the union is stalling negotiations of the food and beverage employee contract. 

There are currently two groups of workers at Claremont seeking a union contract. The food and beverage workers union, represented by Local 2850, was inherited under contract by KSL when the group purchased the Claremont a few years ago, but that contract expired in January. Many spa workers have also been active in organizing, and though an apparent majority of spa workers have signed union cards, Claremont refuses to recognize them as unionized, claiming they must hold a secret ballot election. 

The dispute between management and both groups of workers is over how, and maybe even whether, a union is recognized. If management accepts the counting of union cards as sufficient, then it must negotiate with the union as representative of the workers. As the card count is quick, it doesn’t take long to recognize the union. The secret-ballot election, another method of gaining union recognition, is a process that includes not only a vote but numerous possibilities for appeal and litigation, a process known to take several years. 

“While neither method has legal superiority over the other, card counting is more traditional,” said Richard McCracken, a lawyer representing the Local 2850. “While ultimately the effect is similar, the difference between the two is the length of time the parties are given to bargain for a contract without any outside interference. I’ve had card counting result in unionization in a year, while I’ve seen the election process take anywhere from three to 17 years,” he said. 

One of the sticking points in the food and beverage contract is the workers’ desire for a neutrality agreement that would allow the card counting method. Meanwhile, the spa workers cannot get recognized until Claremont management accepts their union cards or gets them to agree to the election process. 

“The food and beverage workers and the spa workers are basically engaged in a unity camp,” said Local 2850 spokesperson Stephanie Ruby. “Employees have repeatedly shown unity in their demand for a card check,” she said. 

In addition to the initial charges filed, over 70 Claremont workers have signed a petition to boycott the hotel and spa until the labor dispute is settled. The executive board of the Central Labor Council of Alameda County has endorsed the boycott, and will be holding a delegate meeting to ratify the endorsement. “Our delegates will be unified,” said CLC political director Robert Dhondrup. “We will ensure that none of our unions will eat, meet, or sleep at the Claremont.” Dhondrup says the ratification meeting will take place in the next two weeks, and that the motion to boycott might move to the state level and come before the California Federation of Labor. 

Meanwhile, Claremont workers have scheduled a rally for May 19th, at 11 a.m., to take place in front of the hotel, where the workers will be offering the public health and spa services.