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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011, 2:37 pm

Elite Country Club Loses Money As Locked-Out Food Service Workers Vow Victory

BY Mike Elk

Castlewood workers marched in Pleasanton to mark the one-year anniversary of the country club lockout.   (calaborfed.org)

Typically, when a company busts a union it does it to save money. Yet as the case of the16-month-long lockout at the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, Calif., shows us, unionbusting often has very little to do with saving money and everything to do with the power bosses wish to have over their workers.

For more than 30 years, the Castlewood Country Club has had mostly positive labor relations with its 60 or so food service workers, who are members of UNITE-HERE Local 2850. Workers at the country club had always been paid decent wages and had decent healthcare. The club's members could afford to do it. A Castlewood membership costs a one-time fee of $25,000, plus a $630 "gold membership" monthly fee to stay in the club.

After the last contract was negotiated with workers, Jim Clouser was appointed to lead the club's board of directors. “It was clear from the beginning that he was intent on taking on the union simply because was ideologically opposed to unions,“ says country club member Larry Ferderber.

In late 2009, the Country Club made an offer to its workers that would raise their out-of-pocket healthcare costs to nearly $637 a month—about 50 percent of an average club worker's income. Union members made a counter offer that would have saved the country club money over the long run. The country club rejected the offer, and workers were locked out on February 25, 2010.

Many suspected that the country club was not negotiating in good faith and management's real goal was to provoke a lockout so they could bust and severely weaken the union.

“Settling this dispute and providing affordable healthcare for our families would cost each member less than 30 cents a day—so why are we still fighting?” says Wei Ling Huber, president of Unite Here Local 2850, which represents the locked-out workers.

After the lockout began, according to UNITE HERE Local 2850 union organizer Sarah Norr, the workers were brought into a meeting with management, which said the only way the union workers could return is if they agreed to decertify the union. The union workers, of course, refused to do that and the company hired scabs to take their jobs.

According to union organizers, the company has refused to so far negotiate in good faith. The union has since filed unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the country club is trying to permanently replace workers, which is illegal during a lockout.

The company has spent a tremendous amount of extra money due to the labor dispute. According to internal documents, the company has spent at least $340,000 on legal expenses related to the lockout. Also, according to UNITE HERE organizer Sarah Norr, two golf tournaments have cancelled tournaments thus far and another 11 golf tournaments have indicated that they will not return this year to hold tournaments. All this costs the country club expected revenue.

“They didn’t realize who they were picking a fight with, that [workers] had an organization behind them that would fight for them,” says Ferderber. “As a result, the country club has gone into massive amount of debts fighting this union.”

“There is a clear crisis of conscience here,” says locked-out janitor Francisca Carranza. “The club is spending more money locking us out, when it could save money with our proposed contract.”

Castlewood's Board of Directors have tried to keep the escalating costs secret from the rest of the club's 800 members. “When I speak up about the matter, the Board of Directors always tries to keep it hush. They have even threatened to kick me out of the club for speaking up about it,” Ferderber says.

Despite the apparent dedication of Castlewood management to bust their union, workers say they are not deterred. Last week, they engaged in mass civil disobedience to prevent golfers from playing in the annual Castlewood Country Club Golf Tournament. Two dozen union members and their supporters were arrested for blocking traffic from entering the country club.

“We have persisted—we aren’t going anywhere,” said Wei-Ling Huber, president of Local 2850. “We are going to go back, we are going to go back union, and we are going to go back with a contract.”

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

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