PLEASANTON, Calif. - Bright spring grass, gentle breezes, a tree-lined country road. It should have been an idyllic setting for the golfers fanning out across the fairways at Castlewood Country Club on a sunny Sunday morning. But in the foreground of this suburban idyll was a startling sight - a picket line!
Actually, the pickets were marching for a 17th day on March 14, as workers at the club, represented by Unite Here! Local 2850, protested club management's decision to lock out 59 cooks, dishwashers, housekeepers and maintenance workers in the midst of a bitter contract struggle. At its heart: health coverage.
As the golfers played on, accompanied by choruses of "Castlewood, Castlewood, you're no good! End the lockout like you should!" and a stirring beat laid down by members of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, Maria Munoz, for seven years a housekeeper at the club, told how a decades-long good union-management relationship turned sour when new owners and management took over last year.
The bottom line, she said, is that the new owners don't seem to want the union. Some workers have been laid off, the club's laundry, where Munoz used to work, has been closed, and more layoffs are possible.
Munoz' own daughters are grown, she said, "but I think of the families with kids. What will they do? And my co-workers - they're like family for the eight hours we're together." She herself faces big problems paying her bills and keeping her home.
Janitor Maria Ramirez said her husband is sick and depends on ongoing medical care. "If I don't have health coverage through my job, there's no way we can get insurance," she said.
The workers and their union have been negotiating for a new contract since September 2009, and have proposed a contract the union says would actually cut labor costs by 8 percent in the first year, an extremely modest wage increase in the second year, and higher workers' monthly insurance premiums for a cheaper plan with fewer benefits. The club is insisting instead that workers must pay $739 a month for family health care - more than three times the national average. Workers, whose pay averages about $12.50 an hour, now contribute nothing for their health care.
Ramirez and others said community support is growing, with Alameda County firefighters and other unionists having joined picket lines, and some country club members saying they want the lockout to end. As we talked, passing cars honked their support.
On March 7, California state Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico joined workers and their children on the picket line. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the Pleasanton area, offered to mediate but the club would not agree. And last month, Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman told the Pleasanton Weekly that on their current average wages, the workers would find it impossible to pay the company's proposed health care premium.
Local 2850 president Wei Ling Huber said in a statement that the union's proposed agreement would cost no more than the company's latest offer. "But rather than being open to the union's suggestion of redirecting the same amount of money towards family health care instead of wages, the company has chosen to lock the works out in an effort to starve them into submitting to management's own view," she said.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW