Bartenders, kitchen helpers, waiters and other hourly full-time and part-time employees at Castlewood have long been represented by the Bay Area hotel and restaurant workers union, now named Unite Here! Local 2850. Over the years, management and the union have agreed on contracts, ranging from one to three years in length. The last three-year contract expired in July 2008 just as the recessionary economy was buffeting all businesses and organizations, including Castlewood where some members were opting out for financial reasons and Castlewood, itself, was facing a budget deficit. Then, instead of initiating a new contract proposal 60 days in advance as customary, Oakland-based union president Wei-Ling Shuber never submitted one. Surprised, Castlewood simply extended the current contract for another year, waiting until last August to start negotiating a new one.
In the meantime, the economy, Castlewood's own revenue and its membership rolls had continued to fall. Castlewood notified its 110 office, clerical and other nonunion personnel that health care benefits would cost more. The club agreed to continue covering health care costs for individual policies, but posted sharp increases for dependent coverage. Management then met with Local 2850's negotiators, outlining the same changes that would affect union employees. In the new contract, monthly costs for the Single-Plus-One plan (employee plus one dependent) would now cost $366.93 with a family policy to cost $739.08. The club also asked union workers to take a 15 percent pay cut and said it planned to freeze wages for the foreseeable future.
In their ongoing negotiations, union workers at Castlewood who serve as shop stewards won some concessions. Steve Frietas, who's been a bartender at Castlewood for the last 12 years and was the union's shop steward for 10 years, said he talked management into backing away from a pay cut. Wages would still be frozen for the year, but would stay the same. Management also agreed to wage increases of 10 cents an hour in the second year, 30 cents in the third year of a new three-year contact.
Although new health care premiums would increase according to the schedule, as they already had for the nonunion employees, Castlewood agreed to kick in $40 a month for couples and $80 a month for families. Management also agreed to lower to 28 hours the work week required to qualify for Castlewood-sponsored health care from the 32 hours it had proposed, which meant more part-time employees would continue to be eligible for the benefit.
On Dec. 7, before a meeting with management, Frietas showed his two-page compromise to Union President Shuber, who, according to Frietas, refused to read it and who then told Castlewood management that Local 2850 could not accept its contract offer. She said her members, who earn an average of $12.50 an hour, couldn't afford the high health care premiums and, in fact, needed more money. She also rejected the wage freeze and said the proposed increases in years two and three were inadequate.
On Dec. 22, Castlewood management said their contract proposal was final. They told Shuber that if her union members want to walk out, Castlewood would continue operations with temporary employees which the country club is allowed to hire.
For Frietas, it's a dilemma. He has polled union workers at Castlewood and found that a majority do not want to go on strike. They are willing to accept the club's contract offer in order to keep their jobs. Even if they find they can't afford the higher heath care premiums, Frietas says they could continue working while they look for other jobs that offer more money or less expensive benefits, or both. He's been rebuffed in his appeal to Shuber to allow a straw vote to see if there's agreement among the Castlewood workers to accept the club's final offer. He's also heard from some managers that Castlewood is planning to lock out the union workers as early as this week if there's no contract.
Frietas, a Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts, added: "I'll be 62 next month and I've been at Castlewood for 12 years. This is a country club, not a hotel or big restaurant where employee relations can be strained. We're like family here. We don't want to be unemployed; we don't want to be locked out without income for two or three months. Our union leaders should listen to us, too."