During a tour of Bay Area churches Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson stopped into Berkeley’s Mt. Zion Baptist Missionary Church to lend his support to local hotel employees who have been without a union contract for nearly two years.
Jackson spoke to about 200 people and a bank of television news cameras on behalf of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 2850. The union, which includes cooks, banquet servers, dishwashers and housekeepers, has been without a contract at the Claremont Hotel and Spa and the Emeryville Holiday Inn since July 2001.
Union members earn between $8 and $13 an hour, and those with children say it has become increasingly difficult to afford rent, clothing, food and medical insurance in the Bay Area.
“It is immoral to have a sumptuous world on one side and people who are starving on the other,” said Jackson, who spoke before a table laden with bags of rice, juice and canned soups donated for the union workers. “These workers don’t want any more than their fair share. What we want is profits for the owners, security for the workers and service for the customers.”
The event at Mt. Zion was organized by a group of religious organizations who have come together to support the workers. Joining Jackson on the pulpit were five other religious leaders including Mt. Zion’s the Rev. M.T. Thompson; Father Bill O’Donnell of St. Joseph the Worker, and Rabbi David Cooper of the Kehilla Community Synagogue.
According to Local 2850 Vice President Wei Ling Huber, workers who have family medical insurance through their jobs will have to pay an additional $67 for their medical insurance premiums starting May 1; two months later, the premium will be raised to $120.
“Meanwhile the hotel management has been playing hardball,” Huber said. “They’ve been delaying negotiations for months and changing worker schedules and reducing their hours to discourage union activities.”
In a press release issued Monday, Claremont marketing director Denise Chapman denied the Claremont has not been bargaining in good faith and pointed to a complaint filed against Local 2850 by the National Labor Relations Board for “failing and refusing to bargain.”
“We are disappointed that the Rev. Jackson did not have an opportunity to acquaint himself with the Claremont Resort and Spa’s labor situation in greater detail,” the press release read. “Had he such an opportunity, he would have found that the Claremont has a long history of successful, mutually rewarding relationships with unions.”
Huber said the Claremont was grasping at straws by bringing up the complaint.
The Berkeley City Council disagreed with the hotel’s bargaining practices last June and unanimously approved a boycott of the hotel.
“Starting in May, workers are going to have to make a very difficult choice. ‘Do I buy food for my children and or do I buy medical insurance,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who attended the Mt. Zion event.