23 protesters arrested after blocking Castlewood Drive
Lockout of Country Club staff entering 16th month
Twenty-three people protesting the ongoing lockout of Castlewood workers were arrested June 23 for blocking Castlewood Drive in what organizers described as an act of civil disobedience.
The protest drew close to 100 demonstrators and nearly 50 police officers from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and Pleasanton. Castlewood Drive was blocked from just before 8 a.m. until about 11:15, when the protesters blocking the road were taken into custody.
It seemed to be a cooperative arrest; the arresting officers were polite and none of the demonstrators offered any resistance. In fact, the crowd ceased its chanting each time an officer from the Alameda County Sheriff's Office made the required announcement: "On behalf of the state of California, I demand that you leave immediately. If you fail to leave, you will be arrested."
The lockout of union workers from Castlewood Country Club is entering its 16th month, with neither side budging. Bartenders, kitchen helpers, waiters and other hourly full-time and part-time employees, about 60 in all, were locked out of the country club on Feb. 25, 2010, in a dispute over health care costs.
On the day of the protests, the country club was hosting its largest golf tournament of the year, the Men's Invitational. Golfers were delayed about 20 minutes because of the protesters, and a brief scuffle broke out between the two groups.
The road blockage, with protesters holding a duct-tape-wrapped cardboard chain across the road, came just in time to complicate life for morning commuters leaving Castlewood and forced cars to detour around the section of Foothill Road near the country club as well.
At one point, a half dozen or so golf carts were halted around the crowd. Golfers seemed unperturbed by the protest, although at one point golfers were taunted by a couple of demonstrators; the bulk of the crowd occasionally broke into the chant: "All you golfers look around, we need justice in this town."
The union events began with some demonstrators blocking the road while others stood behind them or along the side of the intersection of Castlewood Drive and Foothill Road while organizers led the crowd in chants. After that, about 40 protesters marched, continuing their chants, with speeches by union organizers from a half-dozen unions who came out to support the locked-out workers.
Wei-Ling Huber, president of UniteHere local 2850, which represents the workers, told the crowd that during the last year, Castlewood Country Club has spent three times as much as it would have paid the workers, the money going for lawyers, security and the new staff brought in by the club.
"This has always been about power," Huber said. "They thought we would cave in. ... They were absolutely wrong.
"We're going to go back, we're going to go back with a contract, and we're going to go back with a union."
Huber was joined by members of the faith community, a group of Democrats from Hayward and other union leaders, including some from UniteHere local 2, based out of San Francisco, which in March reached a deal with Hilton Hotel after an 18-month labor dispute.
Club Manager Jerry Olson watched on the sidelines for a time, chatting with golfers and residents. He said both sides are taking the issue seriously.
"I think we're both committed to our positions," Olson said. He refused to comment on the status of negotiations between the club management and the union.
During the chants and march, while some protesters blocked the road, police directed traffic and provided crowd control. After about three hours, a bus arrived to transport those to be arrested, along with more than a dozen officers in riots gear: helmets, batons and body armor. None of that was needed however, and the arrests, handled by other officers, seemed to go smoothly with officers actually helping one protester on crutches as he walked to the bus. The 23 protesters were charged with two misdemeanors apiece: refusal to disperse and obstructing movement on a street or public place. They were cited and released.
Despite the animosity between the union and many of those who live in the Castlewood community, there seemed to be support from some residents. One entered the long driveway up to the club with a handmade sign taped to his car that backed the locked-out workers, and another in a Corvette stopped to drop off water to the workers.
The sides on the lockout remain at the same stalemate they've been at for months. Originally, management offered a contract that would have to shift workers from a union-sponsored health plan to one controlled by Castlewood. Monthly fees would jump from zero to $366.93 a month for single policies and to $739.08 for families.
After months of talks, management offered to bring the workers back -- as long as the club managers could fire or lay people off without taking seniority into consideration.
The union has proposed a contract that would raise health care to $225 a month, restrict health benefits to full-time employees, and accept a wage freeze in the first year and very low raises in later years, which the union said would more than offset any costs to Castlewood.
Labor union debates have sprung up across the U.S. in recent months, beginning in Wisconsin, after the introduction of a bill which would strip most public workers of nearly all union bargaining rights. The debate spread to Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina, and has become a local issue as well, with activists campaigning against rising retirement costs for city workers and automatic pay increases for teachers.