Woodfin Workers Protest Pre-Christmas Suspension

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday December 19, 2006

Woodfin Suites housekeeper Alma Cruz has spoken out at City Council meetings, walked picket lines and talked to co-workers about the need for Emeryville’s Living Wage Law for hotel workers to be enforced. Voters approved the law—Measure C—in November 2005. 

On Friday, along with 23 other immigrant co-workers, Cruz, who has worked at the Woodfin one year and four months, was sent home with two weeks pay and told not to return to work without corrected Social Security numbers. She says the move was retaliatory. 

“As soon as we started talking about Measure C, they started asking about Social Security numbers,” Cruz said, speaking to the Daily Planet Saturday at an early morning emergency picket in front of the hotel at 5800 Shellmound St. that drew some 50 people with less than 24-hour notice. 

The demonstration was called by Oakland-based East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, which is helping to organize the workers. 

Workers were called in Friday to speak with management one on one, given two weeks pay and told that the hotel had received letters from the Social Security administration saying their Social Security numbers do not match their names. 

Friday’s suspensions, which the workers say amount to firings, come on the heels of last week’s raids on meatpacking plants in six states in which 1,282 people were arrested on immigration violations. 

“Social Security is the tool they use to shut people up,” Cruz said. “The hotel wants to make more money.” 

However, Woodfin General Manager Hugh MacIntosh told the Daily Planet on Monday that the hotel’s goal in giving workers two weeks with pay was to give them the time they said they needed to accomplish the task.  

MacIntosh said the action is not in retaliation for workers speaking out against Measure C. “We are trying to help them,” he said. “They have to resolve the issue. I prefer having them working.” 

Further, MacIntosh said the hotel is in compliance with Measure C. 

“We sent a lot of documentation to the city,” he said, noting that last May they reduced the number of suites the housekeepers had to clean from 17 to 11 rooms, bringing them into compliance with the law.  

But EBASE organizer Brooke Anderson said that, according to her calculations, the workers should be cleaning nine rooms every day to comply with the 5,000 square-foot maximum allowed under Measure C. 

The Woodfin had gone to court trying to get an injunction against implementation of Measure C, but three weeks ago, the court turned down the request. 

“Now the city is free to enforce Measure C,” said Emeryville City Councilmember John Fricke. At tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting councilmembers will be asked to approve procedures for implementing the measure. 

“There were provisions in the law for workers to complain,” Fricke said, “but no details on how to adjudicate the complaints.” 

A number of the workers suspended on Friday were among those who had submitted formal complaints to the city saying the hotel was out of compliance with Measure C. 

“Once the procedures are in place, the city will adjudicate the complaint; it will have to be updated,” Fricke said. “The law has provisions regarding retaliation.” 

If the hotel does not comply with Measure C, the city could deny its permit to operate or it could fine the hotel, Fricke said. 

Amaha Kassa, EBASE executive director, who worked with Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union 2850 to organize the Doubletree Hotel at the Berkeley Marina, addressed the picketers on Saturday. 

“Maybe in Salt Lake City and Kansas City, they can get away with firing workers just before Christmas, but not in this community, not in Oakland, not in Emeryville, not in Berkeley,” he said, noting that representatives of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, SEIU, AFSME, the Berkeley Labor Coalition and the Double Tree Hotel had come to the 8 a.m. rally with less than 24 hours notice. 

“Mr. Hardage, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Kassa said, directing his message to hotel chain owner Samuel Hardage, a former chair of the San Diego Republican Party.