Celebrating Mother’s Day on the picket line

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PLEASANTON, Calif. - In the greeting card image of Mother's Day, Mother - surrounded by bouquets of flowers - is served breakfast in bed by her loving family before being treated to a sumptuous dinner at a posh restaurant.

But for one group of Bay Area mothers and their co-workers, this Mother's Day meant another day on the picket line, in the company of a lively group of union and community supporters whose enthusiasm couldn't be dampened by intermittent spring rain. And for some it was also the third day of a hunger strike to protest management's obstinate refusal to end a 73-day lockout and resume contract talks.

It was a family occasion, too, with young people and children joining the line, and one young man, bullhorn in hand, helping lead chants for much of the march.

The workers are 61 food servers, cooks, bartenders and janitors at the Castlewood Country Club who were locked out Feb. 25, after they and their union, Unite Here! Local 2850, refused to accept management's insistence that they pay $739 per month for family health coverage. The workers, who average about $12.50 an hour, had not previously contributed to their health coverage. Their previous contract expired last September.

As Castlewood members and their guests arrived for a holiday brunch, they were greeted with a giant banner proclaiming "Castlewood Country Club: Stop Starving our Families!" and serenaded with chants of "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" to the drum beats and flourishes of the Brass Liberation Orchestra.

Meanwhile, the five hunger strikers had been stationed at the Castlewood Clubhouse, greeting club members as they arrived. Joining the pickets for a brief rally, they shared their thoughts and experiences.

"It's really tough seeing people come in their nice suits for gala events, and we're starving out here," said janitor Francisca Carranza. She told how one member ate his food right in front of her. "I smiled," she said, "but I gave him a piece of my mind!"

Among the strikers was Local 2850's president, Wei Ling Huber, who maintained her hunger strike during a May 7 Alameda Labor Council banquet where she was honored as Unionist of the Year.

Observers said the club's parking lots, usually full on such occasions, had lots of empty spaces.

The workers have received support from a number of area elected officials. Early last month the Pleasanton City Council voted 3-1 to ask the club to end the lockout while it continued talks. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, who voted with the majority, has said she believes the workers could not afford the club's proposed family premiums.

Support has also come from state Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, whose district includes parts of Pleasanton, and other members of the Assembly including Mary Hayashi, D-Hayward and Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, as well as Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

Last week an Alameda County Superior Court judge denied Castlewood's motion for a temporary restraining order to keep the workers away from the club's property so golfers there could have peace and quiet.

Castlewood workers have been represented by Local 2850 for the last 30 years, with no previous labor disputes. The union has proposed concessions it says would more than offset the cost of keeping the family medical benefits, including offering to pay $225 per month for family coverage, increasing the number of hours worked to qualify for medical benefits, a wage freeze in the first year of the contract and a loosening of seniority protections.

 To follow latest developments, see www.endthelockout.org.

Photo: Hunger striker and Castlewood janitor Francisca Carranza. (Marilyn Bechtel/PW)

 

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