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Students push for Cal football to join Claremont boycott

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Saturday November 16, 2002

Before taking the field against the University of Arizona Wildcats today the Cal football team, as it does before every home game, spent a night at the exclusive Claremont Resort and Spa discussing strategy and focusing its attention on the game. 

But, if a group of students and labor activists get their way, the team will be taking its business elsewhere next year. 

The Claremont has been locked in a bitter contract dispute with Local 2850 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees (HERE) union for more than a year. The two sides have argued over wages, health care and the unionization of Claremont's 140 spa workers, including massage therapists, nail technicians, hair dressers and estheticians, who provide facials. 

The Claremont has accused the union of failing to meet regularly and rejecting a contract offer that is a reasonable one in tough economic times. The union has derided the hotel's wage and health care offers as inadequate and accused the Claremont of intimidating union activists, a charge the hotel denies. 

So far, the union has had some success in convincing locals to side with workers in the labor dispute. City Council approved a largely symbolic boycott of the hotel in June and Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek was among some 50 protesters arrested in a march on the Claremont. 

Union activists say several UC Berkeley departments, including Boalt School of Law, the School of Social Welfare and the chancellor's office, have either pulled out of events at the Claremont or pledged not to hold meetings at the hotel. The Daily Planet could not confirm each department's actions by press time, although the chancellor's office said it has pledged not to hold any events at the Claremont in an attempt to stay out of the labor dispute. 

Now students and the union are focusing their energies on the Cal football team. 

“They're well-known. They're very public,” said Claire Darby, community organizer and boycott coordinator for Local 2850. “To have their support in this community would be tremendous.” 

“Cal athletics need to be a part of the community,” added Mo Kashmiri, vice president of external affairs for the Graduate Assembly, which represents 9,000 graduate students on campus. “I think it could be their biggest victory all year.” 

The students have asked the team to break this year's current contract with the Claremont but recognize that, with only one home game left against arch rival Stanford University, an immediate cancellation is unlikely. 

UC Berkeley, which was unable to provide any details on the cost of its football contract with Claremont, has signaled that it will not break the football pact this year.  

An athletic department statement on the issue noted that the department is “sensitive to workers' rights” but argued that a late-season contract cancellation would be difficult and costly. 

“There would be substantial cancellation penalties that we would incur if we chose to relocate,” the statement read. “And while we are a neutral party in these issues, realistically at this late date, it would be extremely difficult to find another hotel in the general proximity with the number of sleeping and meeting rooms required for a large party such as a college football team.” 

The football team's contract with the Claremont expires at the end of the season. Athletic department spokesperson Bob Rose was noncommittal about what the football team might do next year. 

“Let's see how it plays out,” he said. 

But Rose, who said most big-time football programs sequester themselves in a hotel the day before a game, noted that the Claremont has provided the team with “very competitive rates.” 

Kashmiri, of the Graduate Assembly, said student activists had a productive meeting with Associate Athletic Director Dan Coonan Friday afternoon but got no commitments on next year's contract. 

In the meantime, students planned to hang a large banner across Martin Luther King Jr. Way in time for today's game reading: “Cal Athletics - please support the Claremont workers.” 

The hotel issued a brief statement on the issue. 

“The Claremont Resort & Spa has a long history of providing outstanding service to a number of departments at the University of California at Berkeley, including the athletic department,” the statement read. “We look forward to continuing to provide the athletic department with this fine level of service for many years to come.” 


Contact reporter at scharfenberg@