The exclusive Claremont Resort and Spa agreed last week to provide back pay to four employees it suspended earlier this year for distributing union literature at the hotel, according to union officials.
The agreement was part of a larger legal settlement between the resort and the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board, which has the power to judicate labor disputes between private employers and unions.
The resort is locked in a yearlong contract dispute with its food and beverage workers over wages, benefits and the unionization of 140 nonunion spa workers. It also agreed to not threaten or suspend employees for lawful, pro-union activity in the future.
The National Labor Relations Board’s Oakland office was closed for the Labor Day holiday and could not confirm the specifics of the agreement. Both the hotel and the employee’s union, Local 2850 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, said that the NLRB agreement was the outcome of union charges of “unfair labor practices” against the hotel.
Some charges, including a Local 2850 accusation that managers tried to bribe employees into stopping union activities, are not addressed in the agreement. The NLRB is expected to rule on the outstanding issues within a few months.
Stephanie Ruby, secretary-treasurer for Local 2850, called the settlement “an important legal victory for the workers.”
But Claremont spokesperson Denise Chapman downplayed the deal. She said it is illegal to threaten an employee for supporting the union and argued that the hotel has never engaged in the practice. Chapman said the hotel had no qualms about shunning a tactic that it never used.
“It’s like asking a licensed driver not to run any red lights,” she said.
But union members, who picketed outside the resort Monday in a Labor Day protest, said the hotel has intimidated employees – asking them to move when they are distributing union literature in lawful areas and confronting them when they speak to the press about contract negotiations.
Chapman said the hotel is eager to ink a contract for food and beverage employees. She said the union has delayed the process by refusing to meet frequently with hotel negotiators.
“We would like to see [the union] come to the table more regularly to get this resolved,” Chapman said.
A NLRB finding issued in August supports Chapman’s claim. NLRB found that the union “failed and refused to meet at reasonable dates and times” with the hotel to negotiate a contract. The national board set a Nov. 13 hearing date to decide how it will act upon the finding.
But Ruby said the union will fight the charges. She said the union has rejected Claremont requests for back-to-back negotiating sessions because it needs a day off after each session to consult with its membership about the latest developments.
Ruby also said the hotel could eliminate the need for future sessions by sweetening its contract offer.
“We find it laughable that the Claremont is complaining about this because we all know that it is in their power to settle this,” she said.
At the last bargaining session, on Aug. 27, the hotel offered raises of 20 cents an hour each year during the three-year contract. The resort, which pays for union members’ health insurance plans, offered to continue its current health care payments and pay for any increases in health care costs of up to 6 percent per year. Employees would have to pay the rest.
The union rejected the proposal.
Though Chapman said the offer is a “reasonable” one during “tough economic times,” union officials said the 20-cent annual raise is not in line with other Bay Area hotels, which are offering 40-cent raises each year. They also said that requiring employees to cover excess health care costs would wipe out any proposed raise.
Another issue is a Local 2850 effort to unionize 140 nonunion spa workers including massage therapists, nail technicians, hair dressers, and estheticians, who provide facials.
The union wants to utilize a “card check” method, which would allow spa workers to join Local 2850 by signing authorization cards distributed by the union. The hotel wants an election by secret ballot.
Union officials say the secret ballot method would allow the Claremont to intimidate spa workers and could drag out the process if the union was victorious and the hotel were to appeal the results. The hotel argued that the union can strong-arm the anti-union spa workers during the “card check” process.
In June, City Council passed a resolution endorsing a union-led boycott of the hotel, and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek was among some 50 protesters arrested during a march on the hotel.
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