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Working In These Times

Friday, Aug 24, 2012, 4:00 pm

Country Club Could Owe $3.4 Million After NLRB Rules Lockout Illegal

BY Mike Elk

Castlewood Country Club workers, who have been on strike for over 900 days, finally earned a victory with the National Labor Relations Board.   (Photo by: End the Castlewood Lockout)

Last year, In These Times reported that the Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton, Calif. was busting a union against its own financial interests. The lockout of 61 food services workers, members of UNITE-HERE Local 2850, had cost the country club hundreds of thousands in legal fees--plus revenue from 12 tournaments cancelled due to picketing.

But Castlewood has refused to budge for two years, and now it may have a multi-million dollar bill to pay.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that the club's actions were illegal and recommended that the workers be reinstated and paid back wages and benefits. These could amount to as much as $3.4 million, estimates UNITE-HERE, minus anything earned by the workers elsewhere during the lockout. In his ruling, NLRB Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson wrote that the club had "unlawfully endeavor[ed] to frustrate the bargaining process" out of "animus toward the Union and animus to the locked out employees who supported the Union in bargaining.”

The ruling echoes what the union has said for two years: The company simply refused to bargain in good faith. The central sticking point was the company’s demand that the workers shoulder healthcare costs–which the union estimates could be as much as $850 a month, approximately 50 percent of the workers' incomes. The union members made a counteroffer that would have saved the country club money over the long run, according to UNITE HERE, but the company refused.

“We’ve been saying for two years that Castlewood wasn’t giving us a fair chance to get our jobs back. Now Judge Anderson is saying the same thing. I hope this will be a wake-up call to the golfers that they need to stop stalling and put us back to work,” says Castlewood cook Carlos Mejia.

According to club member Larry Ferderber, he and the other 750-plus members were kept in the dark about the large amount of debt the club was incurring from the lockout. Ferderber says he was threatened with expulsion from the club for bringing up the matter. He charges that real impetus for the 2010 lockout was the vehemently anti-union stance of the new president of the board, Jim Clouser.

Now that each of the country club’s equity-holding members is on the line for a portion of the back pay, Ferdberder thinks that the members may finally pressure the board end the lockout. “For two years we have never had a meeting of the members with the board to discuss the options regarding this lockout and see what to do. The members are clamoring for that now,” says Ferdberder.

The club has 28 days from the ruling to either appeal or agree to pay the workers. Castlewood Country Club Membership Director Jami Rodriquez did not respond to request for comment.

The union remains cautious. “We’re thrilled about the decision, but we know we could still have a long fight in front of us,” says Castlewood janitor Francisca Carranza. “We’ll be here for as long as it takes to get our jobs back and win a fair contract with healthcare for our kids. We know people in the community will stand behind us, just like they have over the past two years.”

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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