Labor struggles erupt at Sacramento City Council

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Two important labor struggles have recently come before the City Council here.

On Nov. 9 the council put off voting on a resolution calling on Blue Diamond Almond Growers to recognize the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 17 (ILWU). It deferred action on the measure until the mayor and the council’s members have met with Blue Diamond management.

At the same meeting, Sheraton Grand Hotel employees, members of Unite Here, announced that they are inaugurating a boycott of the hotel.

The council chamber was filled with union members and supporters, wearing red Unite Here “Hotel Workers Rising” or yellow ILWU T-shirts.

Marco Hernandez, a six-year employee of the city-owned Sheraton Grand Hotel, reminded the council that it appointed the hotel’s oversight board. “Healthy jobs build healthy families and a healthy community,” he said. “If a boycott is what we need to win, we will call one.”

Unite Here has been negotiating with the hotel since June. Health care, workload and wages are the main issues.

In March 2006, the National Labor Relations Board found Blue Diamond guilty of more than 20 federal labor law violations, including firing union supporters, threatening workers with loss of their pensions and benefits, and interrogating workers about their feelings for the union. Since then the company has continued to violate the law in an “aggressive union avoidance campaign,” one organizer said.

In 1995 Blue Diamond, which produces around 70 percent of the world’s almond supply, secured a $21 million funding package from local, regional, state and utility agencies to keep its plant open in Sacramento. The company claimed it needed the money to save the plant’s 700 jobs.

“This is a two-way street,” said City Councilmember Steve Cohn, who introduced the resolution supporting the right to unionize. Cohn represents the area of the city where the Blue Diamond plant is located. “I believe Blue Diamond should make peace with labor and let the workers choose unfettered whether to be represented.”

The resolution on Blue Diamond was tabled for one month. The meeting was followed by a rousing presentation by the famed ILWU Drill Team.