Monday, June 17, 2013

Workers Still Protest One Year After Sam Grossman's Take-Over of La Playa Carmel

On June 7, former workers and community members marched at La Playa Carmel to protest the first year of Sam Grossman's ownership of the hotel. The unionized workers were laid off when the Carmel-by-the-Sea hotel closed in 2011, and since its reopening under Grossman's management, only three of the former 113 workers have been rehired. To those at the demonstration, Grossman's decision not to re-hire the workers has been seen as a union-busting attempt which has not worked. They feel that as a result of the demonstrations in Carmel their negotiations with other establishments in the area have benefited, which has further strengthened their resolve to not quit the battle with La Playa's management.

At the end of the rally on June 7, a former La Playa worker named Ramon, who has attended the demonstrations outside of the hotel regularly, said, "I worked here for 22 years and I have some co-workers who worked here for more than 30 years, and it is not fair that they just fired us like that. Thank you for supporting us to continue our fight." 

Former La Playa Hotel server Shirley Smith was quoted in a press release for the demonstration as saying, "One year after the reopening that dashed our hopes, we are still fighting for justice at La Playa. We won't quit." 

Over half of the 113 former workers at La Playa had worked there for 20 years or more. They are members of Unite Here Local 483, the labor union that has represented hotel, restaurant, and other hospitality workers in the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas since 1937. Those working at La Playa had benefited from a union contract for over 40 years until the hotel closed for a $3.5 million remodeling project undertaken by Grossman, which wrapped up in the summer of 2012. 

After their initial attempts to secure first rights of refusal for the former workers when re-applying for jobs at the hotel were unsuccessful, and only two of 113 were re-hired at the time of the hotel's re-opening, Unite Here Local 483 and the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council announced a boycott of the hotel in July of 2012. Since that time, former workers have continued to apply for job openings as they become available, but very few have been called back for interviews.

"A year ago this company had their first chance to do the right thing, right? They could have rehired all the former workers. That was the first of many chances the company had to rehire the former workers who have continued to apply over the past year and most of who have not received an interview," said Lizzy Keegan, of Unite Here. 

"Do you think that this company expected when they didn't rehire people that people would continue to come back and demand their jobs?" she asked the group. 

"No!" the group at the rally answered in unison. 

When Unite Here's Mark Weller spoke on June 7, he emphasized that demonstrators were going to, "be here for years if we have to." 

The current rates for rooms at La Playa are between $300 and $500 for weekdays, and between$450 and $650 for weekends, and former workers and community members alike have continued to wonder why a return to the workers' union contract couldn't be figured into that price-point. 

During the time period that demonstrations at La Playa have occurred, Unite Here Local 483 has been successful in a number of labor negotiations with other establishments nearby. 

In September of 2012, the union negotiated directly with the local management at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to improve contracts which cover 40 cooks, dishwashers, servers, hosts, greens workers, and maintenance and hotel workers. The new contract calls for more than $5 per hour in additional wages and benefits over the life of the agreement, as well as providing job protections in the event the resort sells to a new owner. Additional benefit improvements at Quail Lodge now include employer contribution increases to employee health insurance and pension plans, as well as additional paid holidays and sick leave. 

At Monterey Beach Resort, Local 483 union members met April 18, 2013 to approve a contract through September 2014, which covers 90 workers, including housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, hosts, servers, bartenders, gardeners, groundskeepers, maintenance, laundry, banquet, and front desk workers. The agreement was made with the hotel’s owner, Southwest Value Partners, headquartered in San Diego. 

On April 25, 2013 a new contract with the Old Capital Club was approved by Local 483 members, and it covers five workers through 2015. The Old Capital Club is a 58 year-old private club on Polk Street in downtown Monterey. 

Three dozen demonstrations have been held at La Playa since the workers lost their jobs, and at the June 7 rally, Lizzy Keegan said that it was not a disappointment they were still protesting at the hotel because, "they created some amazing fighters out of the former La Playa workers," and as a result, the labor struggle had, "brought all of us together." 

Demonstrations at La Playa have been well attended, and have involved a wide range of political organizations local to Monterey County. Present at the demonstration on June 7th were members representing organizations that included Women's National League for Peace and Freedom, Peace Coalition of Monterey County, Move to Amend Alliance of Monterey County, Land Watch, California Alliance of Retired Americans, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Green Party of Monterey County, Monterey County Democrats, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), two different student groups from California State Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Occupy Monterey Peninsula, Peace and Justice Center, and the Prunedale Neighbors. 

"What Lizzy said about this community coming together here is so important, and We're going to keep coming back and this is going only to continue to make us stronger. We will win here eventually," Monterey City Council member Alan Haffa said during the rally. 

Haffa and Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker were both at the rally on June 7th, and the two of them have shown their dedication to the former workers by each attending dozens of demonstrations at the hotel. 

In June of 2012 the former workers sent petitions to La Playa Carmel's management with the signatures of over 1000 Monterey County residents demanding the former workers be rehired. 

The demonstrations have been energetic and well attended and as a result, individuals have face a lot of pressure to leave from the hotel's management as well as the Carmel Police Department. 

In addition to hiring a camera person to video tape two entire demonstrations in 2012, La Playa management has monitored nearly every one of the evening demonstrations at the hotel with a sound decibel meter since November 1, 2012. Many demonstrators when first arriving mistakenly get the impression the hotel is using an audio recording device on them. Additionally, the Carmel police themselves used a decibel meter to monitor sound levels outside of the hotel's lobby during one demonstration in February of 2013. 

Carmel Police officer speaks with staff/security

Staff/security carrying sound meter

Sound meter placed on retaining wall

Sound meter placed behind Unite Here Local 483 Treasurer, Leonard O'Neill

Carmel-by-the-Sea Police

At the June 7, 2013 rally, two different police squad cars arrived. When the first officer arrived and initially made contact with La Playa's staff, her first question was if any of the demonstrators had attempted to access the hotel property. 

On June 7 of 2012, demonstrators did attempt to access the hotel as a group in order to deliver the petitions they had gathered with signatures from local residents asking for the former workers to be rehired. La Playa's management called the police, who later arrested one individual for trespassing. The union has said that no one from the demonstrations has ever trespassed on the hotel's property. The charges that were filed against the one individual for trespassing were later dismissed in pretrial hearings. 

Friction from the police may have peaked in February of this year when, according to one individual from the union, authorities demanded that demonstrators leave the area on the sidewalks outside of the hotel due to the noise level, but they refused and continued to rally without incident. 

At the rally, Mark Weller listed some statistics the union gathered regarding the ongoing demonstrations at La Playa. Weller stated there have been: 

- 3 dozen protests at La Playa Carmel 
- 2000 protesters participating in the picket lines, marches, and demonstrations, including Unite Here members who work at establishments all over Monterey County 
- members from more than 2 dozen labor unions 
- 20 elected officials 
- 20 local community groups 
- only 1 protester arrested 
- more than 50 students 
- more than a dozen visits from Carmel police 
- organizers sent delegations for leafleting and protests to Phoenix and Laguna Beach, where Sam Grossman also own hotels 
- 5000 people searching for 'La Playa Carmel' on Google found the boycott website 
- 1000 community members from the Monterey Peninsula signed the petition that was sent to Sam Grossman and delivered to the hotel asking that they rehire the former workers 
- workers and supporters have spoken at 10 Carmel City Council meetings 
- 21 articles in local newspapers 
- customers have written on and other websites about the protests 
- the union can't count the number of times company CEO Matt Crow has lied to the Carmel Pine Cone newspaper 
- 4 union contracts signed in the last year with other local establishments without a fight 
- supporters have contributed thousands of dollars to the local 483 hotel worker relief fund that has helped several dozen laid off workers help pay their bills during hard times 

Monterey County Supervisor, Jane Parker

Monterey City Council Member, Alan Haffa

Sam Gross-Man Unfair!

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