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Claremont spa, union workers face off in the rain

By Matthew Artz Special to the DailyPlanet
Thursday May 23, 2002

Approximately 100 Claremont food and beverage workers, spa workers and sympathizers braved the rain on Sunday to continue their fight against KSL Resorts Corporation, the spa’s parent company. 

The spa workers have been locked in a battle to force KSL to recognize their affiliation with Hotel Employees local 2850, while the food and beverage workers, established members of the union, have been without a contract since the beginning of the year. The crux of the difference betweent the union and KSL is that the union would like a card-check method (allowing workers to signify their desire to be part of the union simply by taking union cards), whereas KSL is demanding that the union be voted in by a voting procedure. Though KSL officials say the vote would be confidential, the union has countered that this procedure would allow for corporate intimidation, and would consequently influence the vote. 

Calling for a boycott of the hotel, the demonstrators marched around the adjacent sidewalks, while some spa workers offered free massages to locals passing by. 

The persistent rain diminished the demand for the massages, and thinned the ranks of demonstrators, but those in attendance remained steadfastly determined to fight on. 

“We hope they will come around and start recognizing us as a union, but we will keep doing whatever is necessary to make it happen.” said Marcia Pedrick a masseur with the hotel. 

For Pedrick, and many of the spa workers, access to health care benefits is the pivotal issue. The hotel only offers health care to spa employees who work 32-hours weeks. Unionized workers at the hotel receive benefits for working 20-hour weeks. According to Pedrick, 32 hours is an unreasonable threshold for massage therapists.  

“No one can do that much massage,” said Pedrick, who maintained that masseurs develop tendonitis and repetitive motion stress from working too many hours. 

Of the approximately 50 hotel masseurs, only three have health insurance, according Leslie Fitzgerald, an insured hotel masseur. The only option for the uninsured is to go through a hotel doctor, but according to Fitzgerald that is not a valid choice. “They don't take you at your word,” said Fitzgerald. 

The demonstration was geared toward mobilizing public support for the boycott campaign, started in April. Some picketing Claremont workers said they were aware of cancellations, but because most hotel guests book well in advance — and would lose their money if they canceled — the demonstrators claimed it was too early to say whether the boycott has been effective. 

Inside the luxury resort, guests interviewed said they were not aware of the labor strife. When informed of the boycott, most visitors didn't seem concerned. But Bob Rhoad, a frequent hotel patron, said it might affect his future choice of hotels. “I’m a strong supporter of labor, so I would have to take that into account next time,” said Road. 

Spa workers and union officials insist there is no plan for a strike. Many of the picketing workers are back at their jobs, in the peculiar situation of serving the clients who they are hoping will boycott the hotel. 

“Were not angry at the guests because a lot of people don't know about it [the boycott],” said Fitzgerald, who added that she feels better at work since the spa workers decided to organize. 

KSL owns numerous resort hotels, so acknowledging the unionization of the spa workers could have wide ranging implications for their business. 

There is little precedent for unionized spa workers, and both the union and the hotel chain know that if the Claremont workers succeed, many other hotel spa workers might decide to follow suit. 

“This is a key one we have to break,” said Curtis Perrott, a sympathizer and member of local 2580. “If they break, everyone else will get into line.” 

Claremont management did not return telephone calls, but did release a letter expressing disappointment in the union’s decision to demonstrate, and maintaining that management is bargaining in good faith. 

In the latest round of negotiations, the hotel offered food and beverage workers new concessions subsidizing 5 percent of rising HMO health insurance costs, according to union spokesperson Stephanie Ruby. But Ruby commented that management’s proposal would not match the projected increases in HMO costs, and was not acceptable. 

Union officials announced that a silent rally would be held outside hotel grounds on May 31.