Thinking of the Future, Workers Seek Contract

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While the Berkeley Marina's living wage ordinance, mandating a minimum wage of $9.75 per hour, kicks in today, workers at the Radisson Hotel and their supporters continue to pressure hotel management to grant a fair contract.

Hotel workers, who have been involved in a struggle to increase their wages and working conditions for more than a year, convened Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil to bring attention to the ongoing labor negotiations.

Local religious leaders, working together with the East Bay Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice, organized the vigil in support of the hotel employees.

"The contract is the only thing that can guarantee a change of conditions," said Nicole Lee, one of the organizers.

Workers succeeded in pressuring the union to let them unionize in June, after a city-endorsed boycott. To further help hotel workers, the city passed a special Marina-area living wage ordinance for businesses with more than six employees who have an annual gross of over $350,000.

If businesses such as the Radisson do not provide health coverage, they must pay workers a minimum of $11.37. But workers also want a "voice on the job," a contract so they can negotiate raises over the long term and be treated with dignity and respect, Lee said.

She said there are workers at the hotel who are 70 years old and have been working for a quarter of a century with stagnant wages who cannot retire because of the high cost of health coverage.

A report by the National Labor Relations Board listed 100 counts of alleged labor violations by the hotel, including reports of threats and retaliation against workers for attempts to unionize.

A spokesperson for the Radisson Hotel was unavailable for comment.

The Radisson's nearly 200 workers are struggling to support their families, with some even having to take two jobs, Lee said.

Religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, among others, have been continually supporting the workers, even getting their respective congregations involved in the cause, she said.

Pastor Lucy Kolin of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland, who has been involved in the labor struggle for a year, first became interested in the workers' cause when she heard personal testimonies of their experiences.

Kolin encouraged her congregation and other religious leaders to attend rallies, give monetary support to the workers and write letters to the hotel in protest. She said commitment to the fundamental beliefs of her faith have motivated her to actively support the workers.

"We believe in respect for the dignity of all people," Kolin said. "Work is a gift to all human beings and shouldn't be a burden. Having no pension and no retirement benefits just doesn't seem right, especially in view of other fair labor practices (at other Berkeley hotels)."

Furthermore, she said workers are looking toward establishing a precedent so that future Radisson employees will be able to enjoy the benefits of their current struggle.

Skate's, a Marina restaurant, applied for an exemption to the living wage ordinance, but the city attorney denied the request.


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