Pleasanton, Calif. — In February 2009, 61 janitors, cooks, grounds workers and others were locked out of their jobs here by an elite, member-run country club, Castlewood, for trying to maintain affordable health care coverage for their families and union protection for their jobs. Three years later, after a bitter struggle, these mostly immigrant workers are declaring victory! They are back to work after signing a new three-year contract on Feb. 13.
The contract, which was approved 44 to 1, includes a substantial signing bonus, raises, strong seniority rights and protections against subcontracting that Castlewood had proposed eliminating during the lockout. Castlewood will also pay for about $15,000 in unpaid medical bills accumulated by the locked-out workers. The agreement does require a substantial payment for health care coverage of $225 per month per family or $50 per month for individuals. But this was what UNITE HERE Local 2850 had offered before the lockout as a compromise to $739 per month — 40 percent of the workers’ average pay — that the wealthy Castlewood membership was demanding at the time.
Labor-community solidarity led to victory
The Castlewood workers, organized by the union and supported by a large labor-community network, had won a National Labor Relations Board ruling against the club on Aug. 17. NLRB Judge Anderson ruled that Castlewood had maintained an unlawful lockout for the previous two years. He found that Castlewood had bargained in bad faith and its bargaining proposals were motivated by animus toward the union.
Unfortunately, the judge’s decision talked only about the illegality of the lockout. Castlewood was instructed to reinstate the workers with back pay, but nothing was stipulated about the contract itself. Castlewood appealed the decision, which could have been the start of another very lengthy process. The club even attempted to get the court to allow it to deduct any wages the individual workers had earned during the three-year lockout, including unemployment and union pay, from back-pay claims.
However, on Oct. 16, Castlewood ended the lockout, and 46 of the 61 locked-out workers returned to their jobs.
Sarah Norr, the lead UNITE HERE organizer during the fight against the lockout, described to Workers World the toll the lockout took not only on the workers, but on their families. Many of the workers tried to find other income and struggled to keep their families together. One of the janitors, Maria Ramirez, got a job at a Dollar Tree store, receiving minimum wage and working on call with no regular hours. She has two daughters, one in high school and one in college. Now Ramirez gets a stable 40 hours at Castlewood.
Carlos Mejia, a cook, worked at Castlewood for 18 years. He knew the members’ names and sandwich preferences. Mejia, who has a child in high school, was unemployed for a long time, then got a low-wage job without benefits. From a life in chaos, Mejia is back to work with good wages due to his seniority and can now protect his family. Formerly a quiet man, Carlos learned about speaking up for his rights during the struggle.
According to a Feb. 21 union press release, server Jeanette Cardenas observed, “So many people told us that dishwashers and waitresses couldn’t win against a luxury golf club. But we’ve learned that it doesn’t matter who you are if you stay strong and you’re on the side of justice.”
“This isn’t just our victory,” said janitor Francisca Carranza. “So many people in the community — political leaders, pastors and other workers — marched with us. We are so thankful to all of you — we never could have won this fight alone. Now we hope workers everywhere see this and understand that you don’t have to give up everything you’ve worked for. You can stand up for your family and win.”
Carranza spoke at rallies and became one of the worker leaders in this long struggle. She also showed solidarity with other workers’ struggles with her presence at strikes such as those at Pacific Steel and American Licorice.