PLEASANTON, Calif. - The late afternoon light was fading fast and the air was heavy with approaching rain as dozens of locked-out Castlewood Country Club workers and their supporters, led by a banner proclaiming "Castlewood, let us work!" and each bearing a glowing candle, began their long procession up the hill to the club's front door.
On this evening, Dec. 18, they were embarking on a posada - a traditional Mexican procession reenacting the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter and their rejection at the inn. Along the way marchers raised their voices in traditional carols in Spanish and English - some with new words: "Joy to the world, we're organized ..."
The symbolism of the posada was apt, because 57 janitors, cooks and other support workers have been locked out by the club's management since Feb. 25, after negotiations for a new contract stalled when the club insisted the workers must pay $739 each month toward family health care costs, or nearly 40 percent of their average take-home pay.
In response, the workers offered to pay $225 a month (they had paid nothing before) and to restrict health benefits to full-time workers. They also said they would accept a wage freeze in the first year of the contract and very low raises thereafter.
UNITE HERE Local 2850, the union that has represented Castlewood workers for over 30 years, says those concessions would have more than offset the costs of keeping the family medical benefits.
As the marchers emerged from the now-dark night and approached the brightly lit, decorated entrance to the club, they serenaded the members inside, but once more - as happened in the traditional Christmas story - they were turned away, empty-handed, and began their long procession back down the hill.
A number of area elected officials support the workers. Earlier this year, the Pleasanton City Council voted to ask the club to end the lockout while it continued talks. Support has also come from area state Democratic Assembly Members Alberto Torrico, Mary Hayashi and Tom Torlakson, as well as Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.
The state Employment Development Department has ruled the lockout is an offensive action and the locked-out workers have been receiving unemployment benefits.
On Aug. 30, the National Labor Relations Board's general counsel issued a complaint against the club for "interfering with, restraining and coercing employees" and failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith.
As the procession prepared to climb the hill, janitor Francisca Carranza told the crowd, "We're doing this action today because in this holiday season, we should be treated with more respect and more care." She added, "We're going to show them a little care, and that the workers are here, united. And thanks to your support, we'll show them we are not alone."
Union organizer Sarah Norr said although regular bargaining has continued during the lockout, two big hurdles remain: the club's demand concerning health care, and its insistence on eliminating seniority rights. Norr lauded the workers' "courage and resilience," and said support is growing from the community, some Pleasanton political leaders "and even some club members."
At the close of the procession, as marchers regrouped at the bottom of the hill amid pattering rain, it was announced that United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 has donated a truckload of Christmas toys for the workers' children. The San Mateo Labor Council has also sent toys. The Alameda Labor Council's hardship fund and Local 2850 are continuing to support to the workers during their long fight.
To follow latest developments, see www.endthelockout.org.