Locked-out club workers stage hunger strike
Union hospitality workers began a three-day hunger strike Friday to protest a lockout by Castlewood Country Club in the hope that their fast, contrasting with members' Mother's Day feasts, will dramatize a labor dispute that has polarized nearby Pleasanton.
On Feb. 25, the member-owned club barred 61 food servers, cooks, bartenders and janitors, represented by Unite Here Local 2850, from coming to work at the 200-acre resort near Interstate 680.
Castlewood spokesman Sam Singer said management acted after negotiations to renew a contract that had expired in September failed to resolve differences over health insurance.
"The only way to apply leverage and get some response from the union was to impose a lockout," he said.
Local 2850 president Wei-Ling Huber, one of five hunger-strikers who said they will spend the Mother's Day weekend fasting outside the club, said workers had offered to pay $225 for family coverage that previously cost them nothing, even before the lockout was ordered.
"This is not about the union fighting for a big raise," Huber said.
On April 6, the Pleasanton City Council voted 3-1 in favor of a resolution asking Castlewood to end the lockout while it continued bargaining.
"They say you judge a community by the way you treat the most disadvantaged or least powerful among you," said Councilman Matt Sullivan, who voted with Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilwoman Cheryl Cook-Kallio.
Vice Mayor Jerry Thorne dissented, saying while he could support a resolution urging talks, he was reluctant to criticize one side's tactics.
"Would we do the same thing if they were on strike?" he said at the meeting, to which Castlewood sent no representative.
State Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty and other elected and community leaders have urged Castlewood to soften its stance.
Club spokesman Singer said "there's a great deal of private support both within the club and within the community" for its position.
Castlewood is located on what was once the estate of Phoebe Apperson Hearst and her son, newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, who established the white stucco and Spanish tile motif that still dignifies the club buildings that dot the oak-strewn hills.
Since 1924, the grounds have been a country club that is today valued at roughly $25 million.
The club is owned by its 811 members who pay an initiation fee of $25,000 and dues of $600 per month to use Castlewood's golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pool, fitness club and banquet rooms.
But the recession has hurt the club. Singer said 35 members quit last year and many golf tournaments and banquets were canceled, hurting the club's finances.
In 2008, the last year for which public filings were available, Castlewood lost $191,000 on revenue of $10.4 million, down from 2007 when it posted a $2.7 million surplus on revenue of $13.5 million.
The club's hospitality workers have been unionized for decades - 90 other employees are not covered by the contract nor affected by the lockout.
On the picket line Sunday, banquet server Peggy Duthie, 82, said this was the first time in her 25 years at Castlewood that negotiations have been so contentious.
In addition to the lockout, workers were asked in April whether they wanted to decertify the union. The measure was defeated 41-17, but the club has asked the National Labor Relations Board to investigate the vote.
The two sides differ over how far apart they are on the health care costs, and about average employee wages.
Singer said Castlewood wants workers to contribute about $500 per month for family coverage that had been previously fully paid by the employer. He said that many workers earn $15 to $20 per hour, plus tips.
Huber said that the required health care contribution would be more like $739, and said the average hourly rate is more like $12.50.
"We understand the crisis," said locked out janitor Francisca Carranza, 45, whose husband has a heart condition. "I maybe can contribute $225, which is what we are proposing."
This weekend Carranza will be fasting outside the club's entrance as members visit the banquet room for their Mother's Day brunch and dinner, hoping for progress in the dispute.
"The club's goal is to negotiate a contract that is fair to both parties and is hopeful at some point at having the locked-out employees return to work," Singer said Friday.
Huber said no talks are scheduled.
Consider that the country club employer wants to force its hospitality workers to go from paying nothing to over $700 a month for health care coverage, when its membership dues are $600 a month (members who are much wealthier than the workers being shut out and thrown to the streets). That $739 a month is 35% of the average hourly wage of the workers at the country club (over 40% of post-tax, take home earnings). That means the worker is losing 40% of his or her paycheck. Try paying rent, a mortgage, food, car, car insurance, whatever else you pay for to live life, after having 40% of your paycheck taken from you by your employer.
Needless to say, these workers need your help. If you know anything about unions, when you are on strike or locked out the worker is individually at his or her weakest after the first few months, especially if he or she has children. These people were thrown out of their jobs for refusing to sign away their lives to afford an outrageously expensive health care cost redistribution. They are the reason why this country still needs unions.
Here is their local and information on how to support these workers.
Local 2850 Oakland
405 14th Street, Suite 164
Oakland, California 94612
Tel. 510-893-3181 ext. 118
And if you would like to get into contact with the folks at Castlewood Country Club, here they are.
Castlewood Country Club
707 Country Club Circle
Pleasanton, Ca 94566
Tom Hunt, Clubhouse Manager