PLEASANTON, Calif. - After a nearly three-year struggle during which workers were illegally locked out for over two-and-a-half years, food service workers at Castlewood Country Club last week voted 44-1 to approve an excellent contract that provides job security, affordable family health coverage, raises and a substantial signing bonus.
"So many people told us that dishwashers and waitresses couldn't win against millionaires," said server Jeanette Cardenas. "But we've learned that it doesn't matter who you are, if you stay strong and you're on the side of justice."
Under the new contract, workers will pay $225 per month for family health care, the same amount the union proposed before the lockout began. Workers' contribution will go down to $150 per month in the contract's final year.
"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. 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."
Castlewood's food service workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 2850, had enjoyed stable jobs with free family health care for many years. But in fall 2009, the country club sought to raise workers' share of family health coverage costs to $739 a month - over 40 percent of the average worker's pay.
The workers countered by offering to pay $225 per month for family health care. They wanted to continue negotiating, but Castlewood locked them out on Feb. 25, 2010.
The workers then voted defeated, by a 41-17 vote, the country club's efforts to get them to decertify the union.
After Castlewood made new proposals to strip workers of seniority and job security protections, allow unlimited subcontracting of workers' jobs and increase family health care even more, the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
Throughout the lockout workers kept up daily pickets in front of Castlewood's golf course and coordinated dozens of larger actions. They were joined by members of UNITE HERE and other unions, political leaders, local clergy and community members.
Several workers celebrated Mothers' Day 2010 by going on a hunger strike.
The workers also organized a successful boycott of the country club and a high-profile civil disobedience action. Their story drew national attention.
On Aug. 17, 2012, an NLRB administrative judge found Castlewood's lockout illegal, and said the club had bargained in bad faith and its proposals were motivated by hostility toward the union.
On Oct. 16, 2012, Castlewood ended the lockout, and 46 of the 61 locked-out workers returned to their jobs. Meanwhile, bargaining continued for a new contract.
On Feb. 13, the workers voted to ratify the new three-year contract.
Now UNITE HERE Local 2850 and the Castlewood workers have ended their boycott of the club and are calling on people who had called off events there to return. They have also asked the NLRB to drop its prosecution of Castlewood.
Photo: Workers and supporters picket Castlewood Country Club's golf course.