City Council Voices Support For Local Hotel Employees' Union

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In a rare showing of unity, the Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday to support the efforts of Claremont Resort and Spa workers to unionize.

A group of hotel employees rallied on the steps of Old City Hall to garner support as they try to maintain their salaries and obtain the same benefits of workers already in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2850.

"For nine years, I've had to pay nothing for my health insurance package," said Mario Savioni, a waiter at the hotel. "Now I am facing $170-per-month increases."

Savioni said co-workers with children are facing $300-a-month increases.

The 144 non-union spa workers attempting to unionize seek to obtain benefits similar to union members that qualify for health coverage if they work over 20 hours a week.

Currently, non-union employees are required to work 30 hours a week to receive health benefits.

"Many of us can't meet the requirement of working 30 hours a week for benefits," said Leslie Fitzgerald, a massage therapist at the hotel who said the physical rigors of the job are too much to work 30-hour weeks.

The non-union employees currently earn $1-3 less per hour than their union counterparts and are asking for equal pay.

Fidel Arroyo, an employee of the Claremont Hotel for the past eight years, said he "does not want to be made to pay ridiculous co-pays."

The Claremont employees are also retaliating against a recent suspension of four employees, including Arroyo, who are now referred to as the "Claremont 4."

The four employees were recently handing out pro-union fliers outside the hotel on their own time, after which they received notice from the Claremont Hotel that they had been suspended.

"They were suspended for distributing material," said Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. "They should be reinstated by management immediately."

Denise Chapman, a spokesperson for the Claremont Hotel, said it would not be appropriate to discuss pending disciplinary actions.

"We would never suspend anyone that would be covered under the Federal Labor Law," Chapman added.

Last year, hotel management agreed to respect the workers' choice in deciding their union status. If the majority of workers opted to sign their union authorization cards, a union would be formed.

Currently, workers say that the Claremont Hotel is refusing to count the cards of employees and is actively discouraging their efforts to unionize.

Chapman responded to workers' claims and said, "We're supporting the employees right to inform themselves and make a choice."

Two recommendations were submitted to the council in support of the unionization effort, one by Dean and another by Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek and council members Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington.

The council agreed to combine the recommendations into one resolution in support of the non-union workers.

"It's gratifying that we got a unanimous vote out of the city council," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington who donned a "Claremont 4" T-shirt.

Now that the Claremont employees have garnered the support of the Berkeley City Council, they plan on taking their efforts to the Oakland City Council for additional backing. The support, though, has no binding effect on the labor negotiations.


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