Page One

Pickets Call For Emeryville Hotel to Honor Minimum Wage

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday October 03, 2006

While housekeepers waved white sheets from the Emeryville Woodfin Suite Hotel balconies early Friday morning, some 80 people—Emeryville residents, religious leaders, trade unionists, and immigrant rights activists—circled the sidewalk in front of the hotel calling on management to implement Measure C, Emeryville’s minimum wage law for hotel workers.  

Not a law some might think would emerge amidst the tiny town’s big boxes, card clubs and glitzy Bay Street, Measure C, approved by voters in November 2005 and in effect since December, offers worker protection for employees in hotels of more than 50 people. Specifically, it requires a minimum wage of $9 per hour, and an $11 per hour average wage, and says that if housekeepers are asked to clean more than 5,000 square feet of floor space per day, they must be paid overtime. It also requires pay for jury duty and requires a 90-day employee retention period if the hotel changes management. 

Brooke Anderson, organizing director with East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, which organized the Measure C campaign and is monitoring its implementation, said that not only is the hotel refusing to implement the measure, it is harassing immigrant workers by demanding they complete new forms showing they have a right to work in the United States, even though they already had completed these forms when they were hired. 

“That’s highly suspicious,” said Anderson, who argued that a demand for renewing the paperwork was retaliation for worker support for organizing efforts to implement Measure C. 

“Workload protections are important, housekeeping is one of the most dangerous jobs,” she said. “There are more giant fluffy beds and the rooms (at the Woodfin) are all suites. Housekeepers suffer from exhaustion and repetitive stress.” 

As demonstrators, armed with buckets and brooms, were calling for the hotel to “clean up its act” outside, inside the hotel, Woodfin attorney Heather Sager of Carlton DiSante & Freudenberger told the Planet she had met with the protesters, “none of whom represents the employees,” she said. 

She also said she has spoken to city officials and they said the city is “the sole entity in charge of compliance,” she said. 

Sager also denied that employees were being asked to fill out new forms that showed they had a right to work.  

“If the city found we were outside compliance, they would pull our permit,” Sager said, adding that the demonstrators “should get their facts before making allegations.” 

Sager contended that the Woodfin Hotel requires a lower volume of work compared to comparable hotels. 

To back up their claims more thoroughly, organizers say they need access to documents that detail wages and square-footage of rooms. In a phone message, City Attorney Michael Biddle said the hotel had submitted documents the city had requested. Organizers say they have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the city to obtain copies of these documents. 

The state enacted legislation in the early 1990s permitting minimum wage laws within cities, according to Howard Greenwich, research director for the East Bay Alliance. San Francisco passed a minimum wage law for the entire city two years ago and Santa Cruz has a minimum wage law on the Nov. 7 ballot. Greenwich said the minimum wage law movement has grown out of the living wage movement, in which “living wages” are tied to city contracts. Berkeley has a living wage ordinance and one is moving through Emeryville’s City Council process. 

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he proposed a minimum wage ordinance that went to the city Labor Commission more than a year ago. The commission was waiting for the state to pass its minimum wage law, according to commission secretary Delfina Geiken, and will likely revisit the issue now that it has done so. 

Organizers are not only holding protests at the Woodfin, they filed a lawsuit on Thursday alleging the hotel has not paid the overtime for workers who clean more than 5,000 square feet in a day, and has unfairly retaliated against workers by cutting their hours. 

Sager said she had not reviewed the lawsuit and could not comment on it. 

Reached by phone on Friday, Emeryville City Councilmember John Fricke said he supports the efforts on behalf of the workers. 

“I have a strong belief in the right of labor to organize,” he said. In a phone message Mayor Ruth Atkin said she was the lone councilmember to endorse Measure C and strongly supports its implementation.