Woodfin Suites, a national hotel chain, is attempting to intimidate Emeryville, Calif., hotel workers and demolish their gains. The company is retaliating against the workers—who are mostly immigrants and women—for initiating a public campaign urging the hotel to follow a recently passed labor measure.
In November 2005, Emeryville voters passed Measure C, a living wage law for hotel workers. The measure guarantees
Woodfin Suites hoped to continue its policy of ignoring Measure C and also to stop the workers’ movement. Shortly after the hotel workers began the campaign, hotel management issued 30 “no-match” letters.
“No-match” letters are documents informing a worker that they do not have a valid Social Security number. They are used to communicate to the entire immigrant work force that management can easily fire them. Companies want to silence and repress workers at all costs.
By issuing the letter, Woodfin Suites was communicating to all of the immigrant workers at its hotel that they also could get “no-match” letters if their organizing continued.
Woodfin management originally claimed that the letters came from the Social Security Administration itself. However, when asked for proof of this, the hotel backed down from its spurious claim.
The 30 workers were ordered by Woodfin to produce Social Security numbers or face unemployment. The original production deadline of Oct. 18 was extended due to public pressure. On Dec. 15, Woodfin suspended 21 of the workers. They will be terminated effective Dec. 29.
The directive came directly from Woodfin and not the Social Security Administration. Using “no-match” letters in this manner, to retaliate against and intimidate workers, is illegal.
Woodfin Suites is known for its crooked, anti-worker tactics. It previously fired a worker who actively campaigned for Measure C. The company also has held “captive audience” meetings where it tries to convince workers that the living wage ordinance will cause them to lose their jobs.
Woodfin management even held a group of immigrant room attendants in an attic for two hours, claiming immigration agents were outside detaining other hotel workers.
On Oct. 18, 24 Woodfin employees filed a class action lawsuit seeking back pay and a temporary restraining order prohibiting the hotel from terminating them. The back pay amounts to tens of thousands of dollars.
Fifty clergy and faith leaders from across the state have signed a letter urging Woodfin CEO Samuel Hardage to assure workers that they will not be fired. Over 20 community and labor organizations have sent letters to Woodfin, while numerous political leaders have also sent letters of support.
On Dec. 18, three days after Woodfin announced that the 21 workers would be fired, hundreds of supporters demonstrated and dozens of community organizations announced a boycott of Woodfin Suites.
“What will we tell our children when they have no presents to open on Christmas?” said Alma Cruz, a Woodfin housekeeper. “We are worried about feeding our families, but we will not give up. The hotel thinks they can intimidate us because we are immigrants, but we will keep fighting for our rights.”
The fight in Emeryville is far from over and the workers at Woodfin have demonstrated their resolve to struggle. Concerted community support is needed to continue the fight.