Locked out Castlewood workers will return to work in October

After two years of stalling and dirty tricks by management, Castlewood Country Club has been advised to end its lockout – and quickly.

An administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Aug. 17 that the lockout was illegal. The judge told the company to reinstate the workers by Oct. 16 and pay them back wages and benefits.

Castlewood Country Club

But the workers are still without a contract, said Wei-Ling Huber, president of UNITE HERE! Local 2850, which represents Bay Area hotel and restaurant workers and 61 bartenders, kitchen helpers, waiters and other unionized hourly employees at Castlewood.

“We’re not done with the contract or the issues raised by the NLRB decisions,” she said Sunday. ”The underlying issues are still to be negotiated. The back pay is outstanding and it’s huge” _ an estimated $1.8 million.

Castlewood members pay $600 a month to belong to the club. That’s in addition to an initiation fee of $25,000 – more than the workers who feed them, launder their napkins and trim the putting green earn in a year. Castlewood workers gross $17,000 to $23,000 a year.

The union’s three-year contract with Castlewood expired in July 2008, but was extended by the club for another year. Then two years ago, Castlewood brought in a new general manager and a board president who demanded workers begin bearing the cost of family health coverage, a tab that comes to nearly $800 a month.

“It is 60 cents a day for them to pay for our health insurance,” janitor Francisca Carranza said. “They told us to go to the community clinic. At the community clinic, if you are hurt or very sick you have to wait for a week to be seen. They are asking us to enter a system that is already saturated.”

Castlewood Country Club pool

Management “didn’t give us the opportunity to talk about it,” Carranza said. “They thought we would run away. Thank God we had our organizers to tell us what our rights are.”

During the lockout, Carranza’s husband was hospitalized with arrhythmia. Already barely making it on $12 an hour, she had to move in with her eldest daughter, unable to continue paying rent. The couple could not afford a cap and gown for a daughter graduating from high school.

The unit’s strike fund, fed with generous donations from supporters, paid the workers a small benefit, but “people have had to make significant changes,” Huber said.

The workers will return under the terms of their old contract, which provides more affordable health care.

During the lockout, the company placed boulders along the road so demonstrators would have to walk a long way to the picket line, and stashed a single port-a-potty behind bushes in a vacant field.

Jerry Olson, Castlewood’s general manager, told the Oakland Tribune the company “felt it was probably best for employees to bring them back,” “and said management is “looking forward” to their return.

Since the ruling in August, four meetings between management and the union have taken place. The workers said they suggested the company pay half the back wages when they return to work, and the rest later – in increments if need be. Management rebuffed the suggestion, saying the company cannot afford to pay the tab.

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 24.

The union plans to continue picketing and staging other actions. Members continue to enjoy the support of elected officials and area clergy and parishioners.

Castlewood “has definitely lost the P.R. game,” Huber said.


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