About 50 demonstrators, including 91-year-old Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek, were arrested in the shadow of the Claremont Resort & Spa Thursday evening when they blocked the intersection of Ashby and Domingo avenues during a labor protest.
The arrests followed a 14-block march in which 500 hotel and restaurant workers and their supporters carried signs and chanted slogans. The demonstration was organized to call attention to what demonstrators believe are bad-faith negotiations by their employers during several contentious contract disputes.
The workers are employed at the Claremont Resort and Spa, Holiday Inn and the Marriott in Oakland and the Holiday Inn in Emeryville.
Just prior to her arrest Thursday, Shirek addressed the crowd of demonstrators with a powerful voice that belies her advanced years.
“The Claremont has enough money to make development plans that nobody in the neighborhood wants but despite all the money that flows uphill, they can’t treat their workers fairly,” she said. “I’m here to say ‘shame on you Claremont and until you treat your workers fairly, there’s no room at the inn for you.’”
Claremont managers, since last year, have been in negotiations with food and beverage employees about wages and benefits. More recently, the unionized food and beverage employees extended their demands to include the possiblity of union membership for the hotel’s unrepresented spa workers.
Thursday’s march began at the Rockridge BART Station in Oakland after workers and Mayor Shirley Dean offered the demonstrators encouragement.
“There’s something wrong when workers in this country have to work two jobs just to make ends meet,” Dean said. “There’s something wrong when workers don’t have enough medical care or enough food to eat. But we are going to change that.”
Mayoral candidate Tom Bates also attended the rally and echoed Dean’s sentiments. “The hotels have to show the workers respect and deal with them fairly and the sooner the better,” he said.
Claremont cook Fidel Arroyo, who was suspended by Claremont management for handing out pro-union leaflets, also addressed the crowd.
“I am out fighting for my 6-month-old son, the union and the community,” he said. “We are ready to do what takes to win justice.”
The demonstrators began the hour-long march led by the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union’s 11-member drill team. Carrying shiny silver cargo hooks and wearing the traditional worker’s uniform, black Ben Davis pants and white-striped Ben Davis work shirts, the drill team marched in lock step down College Avenue followed by the 500 demonstrators.
Police escorts held the rush hour traffic at the busy intersections along the commercial strip.
The hotel’s director of marketing, Denise Chapman, issued a statement saying the union is putting too much effort into demonstrating and not enough into negotiating.
“We are disappointed that the union continues to put energy into these types of stunts while they refuse to put the same energy into serious negotiations at the bargaining table,” the statement read.
The negotiations have drawn the attention of state Assemblymembers as well as the Berkeley City Council. The council has unanimously approved two resolutions supporting the workers, including one in June that endorsed a boycott of the posh resort.
The Local 2850 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union has been negotiating a new union contract with the Claremont, which is owned by the multi-billion-dollar corporation KSL Recreation, since last September when their contract expired. The workers were covered by an interim contract which was renewed on a daily basis, but according to union organizer Liz Oakley, the interim contract was canceled by hotel management in January.
Union representatives have two demands: fair wages and benefits for existing union members and union membership for 140 spa workers who work at the resort.
Union Secretary Treasurer Stephanie Ruby said hotel management has not yet negotiated fairly. She said they have continually presented offers of wage increases that the union says would set them back 15 years in relation to the current cost of living.
“Union members are particularly outraged about proposals that would result in many workers paying an additional $200 per month for health care coverage and wage offerings ranging from 5 cents an hour to 20 cents an hour,” a union press release read.
But Chapman said hotel management has attempted to negotiate in good faith but the union has rebuffed their wage increase offers. She added that hotel management offered to schedule 13 meetings with the union during the month of August but the union agreed to only two. The last negotiation meeting was on July 23.
Ruby said the hotel is misrepresenting the proposed meeting schedule.
“When we started this process we told the hotel that we could schedule meetings on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays,” Ruby said. “Only two of the 13 days management wanted to meet fell on those days.”
Also at issue is the admittance of the hotel’s 140 spa workers into the union. According to union representatives, the hotel management is reluctant to recognize worker requests to join the union by a standard organizing method known as a card count.
Chapman said hotel management is against the card count because workers can be intimidated. She said the hotel has proposed an election in which workers can vote in private.
But Ruby said the hotel’s claims of intimidation are unfounded.
“In fact, the state Labor Board has issued two complaints against the Claremont for intimidating workers who are involved in union organization,” she said. “They want an election because an election will allow them to stall for months and maybe years.”
Ruby said the election would take up to eight weeks to organize and then, once the ballots were counted, the hotel could challenge the election in court on fabricated charges.
“The whole thing gets dragged out through an appeal process based on a myriad of reasons that can be concocted,” Ruby said.
Ruby added that the hotel held a card count two years ago for the housekeepers and desk staff.
“A card count was good enough two years ago, what’s different now?” she said.
Charges of hotel intimidation of union-supporting spa workers caused concern among a contingent of elected officials, who went to meet with hotel management.
On July 22, representatives from the offices of assemblymembers Dion Aroner and Wilma Chan accompanied councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio to the office of hotel General Manager Todd Shallan.
According to Worthington, Shallan refused to meet with the group, claiming that there was no meeting scheduled.
“I don’t remember any company treating elected officials like that,” Worthington said. “We didn’t have to talk to the head guy. We would have been glad to talk to any of a half dozen people in management but we were told no one was available.”
Shallan is on vacation and was unavailable for comment Thursday.