Labor disputes linger at three Carmel hotels; management calls on courts.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
A s many workers settled in for a Labor Day weekend of barbecues and beer, 120 Carmel hotel staffers and their supporters gathered Sept. 1 for a march from La Playa Hotel to Pine Inn, beating drums and chanting, “No contract, no peace.”
Unite Here Local 483 members say the quiet streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea are their new target. “Carmel’s the center of problems in the hotel industry right now,” says Mark Weller, the local’s project coordinator.
“It’s a place of bountiful wealth, some excess and good times,” says Ron Chesshire, CEO of the Monterey/Santa Cruz Building and Construction Trades Council. “But not for the workers.”
Local 483 is battling three separate hotels—La Playa, Pine Inn and Carmel Mission Inn—each for different reasons. What they have in common, union organizers say, is hotel management using the recession as an excuse to reach into some 200 workers’ pockets.
At La Playa, which is for sale, 122 employees received notices under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, advising them that new ownership could put their jobs in jeopardy. Now workers are calling for a guarantee that they can stay on. They’ve been negotiating their contract for more than a year with Marin County-based owner John Cope, who says he hasn’t taken a raise in five years.
Both the union and Cope say relations have been positive over the past 30 years. “I love my employees; I think they’re fabulous,” Cope says. “[But as a prospective owner] sees you marching with bullhorns, they don’t see you as a good partner.”
La Playa at least agreed to increases in pension plans for union members, something union reps say Pine Inn management is threatening to reduce or eliminate. They say Pine Inn is also trying to pull insurance benefits for family members. General Manager John Lloyd declined to comment.
The union at Carmel Mission Inn voted themselves out of Local 483 membership in January. But the union is now challenging that de-certification, and filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging management illegally circulated the petition.
Since then, General Manager Bob Buescher says, Unite Here has organized protests as retaliation against Mission Inn workers for withdrawing from the union. He claims his workers haven’t participated. “It’s an attempt to punish the employees, and early in the morning purely to disrupt and terrorize hotel guests,” he says.
But union representatives say those workers are the backbone of afternoon picketing and the occasional 6am rally.
Carmel Mission Inn managers filed a complaint Aug. 16 with Monterey County Superior Court for an injunction against the union’s recent early-morning protests, which they claim drive business away.
Meanwhile, the hotel business shows signs of picking up. After a 14 percent drop in transit occupancy tax revenue in 2008-09, Carmel’s numbers are again approaching 2007 values; the 2010-11 fiscal year saw almost $4 million in TOT taxes, which provide about a third of Carmel’s revenue.
Pending a Sept. 7 hearing on the Carmel Mission Inn injunction, Local 483 plans to continue protesting. For now, their lawyers have agreed to limit appearances to a 9am-8pm window.
But the union isn’t going anywhere. Chris Fitz, Local 483’s community organizer, says, “We win these fights when we are relentless.”