Claremont Hotel, Labor Union Fail to Achieve Contract

By Raymond Barglow, Special to the Planet
Thursday December 03, 2009 - 08:53:00 AM
Union members demonstrate outside the Claremont Hotel Monday.
Raymond Barglow
Union members demonstrate outside the Claremont Hotel Monday.

On Monday, Nov. 30, afternoon the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Workers Union (HERE) Local 2850, picketed at the entrance to the Claremont Resort on Ashby Avenue.  

The occasion was the Claremont’s annual-tree lighting ceremony, but workers at the hotel say that hotel management is threatening to make their holiday an unhappy one. Management, they say, is taking an uncompromising stance in current contract negotiations.  

This impasse is the latest episode in a long history of labor conflict at the Claremont. In 2006, a strike and boycott of the resort that had been going on for four years came to an end when the owners signed a contract with the union. But now, says Fidel Arroyo, who has been a cook at the hotel for 16 years, the employer is threatening to cut back the workers’ health benefits as well as their wages. “We are paying $30 a month for our health plan. They want to raise that to over $300. For me that would mean a 10 percent wage cut. I would have to choose between paying for health care and putting food on my family’s table.” 

The hotel management claims that the hotel is being forced to economize, given the current financial crisis: Revenues are down, health care costs are up, and management cannot afford to provide the salaries and benefits that have been possible in the past. 

Harry Brill, who was walking the picket line Monday along with other union supporters in the community, finds this argument unpersuasive. “Morgan Stanley, a major owner of the hotel, is receiving $10 billion in bailout money from the feds,” says Brill. But its anti-worker policy, he believes, defeats the aim of the stimulus program: “Cuts around the country in wages and health benefits only reduce the spending power of the public and deepen the recession-depression.” 

As evening approached, a dozen of the picketers went to the entrance of the hotel and began singing Christmas carols, with words changed to convey a pro-union message. Hotel security guards ordered them to leave, but the workers refused, citing a National Labor Relations Board ruling that they say protects their right to assemble at the door. The Berkeley police were called but arrived only after the caroling was over. No charges were filed.