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Business School Rejects Claremont Hotel Boycott

By Jakob Schiller
Friday January 16, 2004

Despite requests from a host of elected officials and one community religious leader, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business Dean Tom Campbell refused to honor the long standing boycott of the Claremont Resort and Spa, positioning the school as the last large business to patronize the resort.  

The requests were formally delivered to the dean last Friday by Berkeley Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, former assemblywoman and now legislator in residence at UC Berkeley Dion Aroner, and Pastor Ron Pickel from the Berkeley Seventh Day Adventist Church during a meeting organized by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 2850.  

The Claremont, which has been ensnared in an almost two-year battle over two expired union contracts and a new organizing effort by Spa employees , recently suffered large business losses when both the Cal football team and Kaiser Permanente, the HMO giant, shifted their business to other union hotels in the area. 

“Our aim was to get [Campbell] to join us in sending a message to the [Claremont owners] that they need to treat the employees fairly,” said Councilmember Maio.  

According to Maio and the others present at the meeting, while Dean Campbell seemed receptive, he declined to move forward on their request.  

“I’ve thought all along that they should not be aiding and abetting a labor dispute,” said Aroner. “They’re supposed to be an example of good labor practices.” 

Efforts to contact Campbell were unsuccessful but the business school’s Chief Operating Officer Teresa Constantinidas released the following statement about the meeting: 

“It is the Haas Business School’s position that it is best for the school not to take sides in the union dispute with the Claremont Hotel. As a result, the school has not changed its business with the hotel, neither increasing nor decreasing as a matter of policy. Dean Campbell has met with students, religious leaders, union leaders and public officials and continues to communicate with them to foster a better understanding of both sides of this issue.” 

According to HERE Local 2850, the boycott, which is going into its twenty-second month, has resulted in large business losses. Claire Darby, an organizer with HERE Local 2850 said the union has seen reports that say business is down 75 percent from last year, a number the Claremont refused to comment on. She also said the resort suffered large losses over the holidays booking only 250 reservations; down from 1200 last year. 

The union and the Claremont are set to re-enter negotiations on Jan. 19 and 20.  

The union also reported that the Claremont found itself in trouble over the holidays when the National Labor Relations Board served the resort with an Unfair Labor Practice violation for issuing a memo to Spa workers which prevented them from talking badly about management or other workers on the job. 

Four days after the NLRB ruling, spa worker Kathryn Fairbanks was suspended for speaking with a supervisor about what she thought was unfair treatment by her manager. She was then fired over another incident involving a mistaken identity, prompting a delegation of union representatives, concerned students and elected officials to convene at the resort and demand that she be reinstated. According to the union a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle also called about Fairbank’s termination and the following day she was reinstated.  

Councilmember Worthington said he was disappointed with the way the Claremont treated the delegation, requesting they meet outside in the rain. When he refused and went inside, security told him he would be arrested and proceeded to call the cops, who came but did not arrest him. 

“If they treat elected officials that way it’s no wonder they have problems with their employees,” said Worthington. “I was astounded they would expect us to stand outside.” 

Claremont representatives refused comment on the incident concerning Fairbanks but eventually released a statement, saying “It would be inappropriate and disrespectful of their privacy for us to discuss the disposition of any disciplinary action...we respect [the rights of employees] to be involved in union activities and to voice their opinions.”