With the Emeryville, Calif. City Council’s confirmation this week that the Woodfin Suites Hotel must pay them some $200,000 in back wages, dozens of current and former workers advanced one more step toward victory in over three years of struggle for fair treatment.

Earlier this year, after hearings that spanned five sessions in two months, the council voted in principle to uphold its demand for the wages, due under a 2005 living wage ordinance. The council’s vote this week to confirm its decision was unanimous.

City staff will soon inform the hotel of the deadline for payment. But because the Woodfin has a long track record of refusing to comply with city decisions, worker advocates are continuing a two-year boycott of the hotel.

“This is a huge milestone in the campaign and a huge victory for the workers,” Brooke Anderson, organizing director with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), said in a telephone interview. “But until they have that check in hand, the boycott will continue. Every week and every month we are in touch with businesses that are pledging their support for the boycott.” EBASE has stood with the workers from the start of their campaign.

Anderson cited a similar case in which workers at a Cintas uniform and laundry facility in nearby Hayward have finally received $1.2 million in back pay under that city’s living wage measure.

“For workers, and for us, it’s also about setting an example of what we can achieve when we work together as a movement, and particularly at the Woodfin, an example that immigrant workers can, do and should have all the same rights as their non-immigrant co-workers,” Anderson said. “That’s something we can fight for on the local level through these campaigns, but we also need just immigration reform at the national level.”

The campaign has had ongoing labor and community support, with many unions affiliated with the Alameda Labor Council joining with the Interfaith Coalition for Workers Justice and community groups at rallies and on the picket line.

The workers’ struggle began after Emeryville passed Measure C, a city living wage ordinance, in November 2005. The measure also set workload standards for hotel housekeepers and required they be paid time and a half when workloads exceeded the limit.

When the largely immigrant workers fought back against the hotel’s continued assignment of excessive workloads, the Woodfin harassed and intimidated them, including firing a dozen workers on the pretext of Social Security no-match letters. Workers and their supporters fought back, demanding decent treatment and an end to employers’ use of immigration law to deny them the right to uphold labor standards.

In August 2007 the City Council ordered the Woodfin to pay the back wages, and when the hotel refused, the case went to court. Last spring a county superior court judge upheld the living wage law but ordered the recently-completed hearings because of procedural issues.

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