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Hotel scoffs at city’s boycott

By Kurtis Alexander Daily Planet Staff
Tuesday July 02, 2002

Three weeks after Berkeley leaders urged city residents to boycott the high society Claremont Resort and Spa, hotel managers are calling the boycott a failure. 

The city’s stance is a protest to the hotel’s unresponsiveness to organized labor. 

In a letter to the Daily Planet, Claremont managers said that the recommended sanctions undermine employees’ interests. 

“If there are fewer guests, there is less work, and that would directly and negatively affect the people that work here at the hotel,” the statement read. “It just doesn’t make sense to us.” 

City Council’s June 11 boycott came amid a three-month standoff between hotel managers and union leaders over what process employees must go through to join a union. 

While 250 of the hotel’s food and beverage employees are currently represented by Local 2850 of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, many of the hotel’s 140 nonunion workers lack the health benefits of their co-workers. Most of them are part time employees in the hotel spa and have begun an effort to unionize. 

Local 2850 leaders, with support from the city, insist that the employees ought to have the opportunity to unionize through a card count. In a card count a union automatically forms if a majority of employees sign up. Hotel managers, though, demand a more formal election process before they recognize non-union employees as unionized. 

Nearly a month into the city-backed boycott, hotel managers remain committed to their demands, adding that the boycott has had little, if any, economic impact on the hotel. 

“The union’s efforts in this regard have had no negative effect on our business,” the hotel’s statement read. “In fact, business is up at the Claremont and our guests continue to come here.” 

The hotel’s report is in stark contrast to the city’s belief that the boycott is making a difference. 

Mayor Shirley Dean said that she was recently visited by the Claremont’s president, the general manager and their attorney. The management team was unsuccessful in an attempt to win the support of city leaders and expressed anger about the boycott, Dean noted. 

“I think they were pretty ticked off by it,” she said. “I come to the conclusion that we’re having an impact.” 

Warren Mar, labor policy specialist at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, in time the boycott may have an impact on the hotel’s operation. 

Most business at the Claremont is convention-driven, Mar said, so a residential boycott will not likely have a direct effect. However, news of the boycott could eventually influence convention organizers, he said. 

“Businesses will respect the boycott, not because they’re necessarily pro-union, but because they don’t want a hassle during their visit,” Mar said. The university is among the Claremont’s clients. 

Mar is hoping that the boycott might cause speakers or entertainers sympathize with the union and cancel scheduled appearances at the hotel. 

City leaders who are trying to have a say in the labor dispute have history on their side. 

Two years ago, employees at Berkeley’s Raddison Hotel won a union contract nine months after City Council adopted a similar resolution that urged a boycott. 

Both hotel managers and union leaders said that they will continue to meet. But the stalemate continues.