Hotel workers march for contract

BERKELEY, Calif. – After a mile-long march through the streets of Berkeley Aug. 1, 50 of the 800 supporters of hotel workers seeking a contract were arrested after blocking the street leading to the Hotel Claremont here.

The Claremont is one of eight hotels in the East Bay area where contracts expired July 1 and employers have offered small wage increases of 25 cents an hour and demanded workers pay $300 a month for medical coverage. Those company demands would mean, as Norma Madrid, a Claremont spa worker, put it, “I am just working to pay my benefits.”

The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2850, which represents the more than 800 workers involved in contract talks, is asking a $1 an hour increase and company paid health coverage, along with improvements in working conditions.

Among those arrested in the protest at the Claremont was Berkeley Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek, who celebrated her 91st birthday by being cited for blocking traffic. Shirek said she attended the rally to support the workers, who face unfair wages and risk having their health care taken away. “They’re not going to do that in this town,” said Shirek.

Others who participated in the march to the hotel included Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean and City Council member Kris Worthington, Oakland City Council member Jane Brunner, and representatives of many East Bay unions.

Stephanie Ruby, an organizer for Local 2850, said, “The industry is taking advantage of the events of Sept. 11. The owners of these hotels are continuing to buy hotels, they’re continuing to invest tons of money, but not in their workers.”

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org