Letters for the week of March 7-13, 2007 


"Christmas at Woodfin Suites," Feature, 1/24

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2007-01-24/news/christmas-at-woodfin-suites/

Building a business, obeying the law
No hotel, no matter how well located or elegantly appointed, will succeed in a competitive market if it fails to attract and retain outstanding employees. A property's amenities mean nothing if the men and women cleaning rooms, serving meals, and working behind the front desk aren't bringing their best to work each day. Given the choice between a hotel with a more lavish lobby and one where friendly, helpful people greet them warmly, treat them graciously, and make them feel at home, guests will choose the latter every time.

That's one reason I and the vast majority of other Woodfin employees are mystified by local labor unions' assertion that we are indifferent to the plight of our housekeeper colleagues who have turned up on the Social Security Administration's no-match list. But even leaving aside the fact that an experienced, detail-oriented housekeeping team is indispensable to our operations, and that many of us have warm personal feelings toward the housekeepers with whom we have worked for months or even years, there is a simple and compelling business rationale for why we would prefer these workers be allowed to remain with us: Hiring and training hourly employees is an enormously expensive and labor-intensive proposition — a roughly $25,000 per person investment, by some expert estimates. And needless to say, there are substantial human and financial costs associated with dismissing workers as well. The contention that companies "create a sort of revolving door, where [undocumented workers] can be hired and then gotten rid of," as one young spokeswoman for the labor union front-group EBASE claims, is therefore illogical on its face. Small hotel chains such as Woodfin simply could not be profitable, or offer their guests satisfactory service, if they were to approach the task of hiring in this reckless, shortsighted manner.

This explains why Woodfin went to such great lengths last year to give those of our housekeepers whose names turned up on the Social Security Administration's "no-match" list several opportunities to verify their employment eligibility. Our human-resources department sent the housekeepers multiple notices informing them of the consequences of failing to produce proper documentation, and even offered them paid leave to make any necessary trips to their local SSA office to resolve matters.

Despite our best efforts, however, a significant number of these employees have been either unwilling or unable to meet the federal government's requirements. Were we to continue to employ them, the Department of Homeland Security could find that Woodfin is subject to substantial civil and criminal penalties for immigration-law violations. As a company, we are intent on heeding both the spirit and letter of all applicable local, state, and federal laws governing our business — not just the ones we like. That's a position we believe EBASE's union backers would appreciate, given the zealousness with which they've monitored our hotel's compliance with Emeryville's Measure C wage ordinance.

Our organized-labor antagonists have persisted in painting Woodfin's compliance with federal law as a form of retaliation, as a means of hurting those of our colleagues who have been duped by the unions into believing that Woodfin has failed to fully comply with the wage guidelines mandated by Measure C. It's a crafty ploy, but a thoroughly disingenuous one. The unions know full well that we are obliged to dismiss workers who cannot resolve their no-match issues, and that we have never, and would never, take action against employees whose documentation is in order and whose job performance is acceptable, regardless of whether or not these individuals are also working on the unions' behalf.

What's most troubling about these tactics is that they hurt the very workers whose interests UNITE HERE and its allies purport to represent. For months now, the unions have paraded a contingent of Woodfin housekeepers around town, escorting them to carefully stage-managed protests and city council meetings in a cynical, self-serving campaign to engender ill will toward our hotel as part of a thinly veiled membership drive. In the process, these organizations have exploited for their own benefit several of our housekeepers' difficulties in resolving their documentation issues. The unions' chief accomplishment during this period has been to create adversarial relationships within our ranks where none previously existed.

As David Bacon rightly notes in his article, employers such as Woodfin depend on the diligence and dedication of immigrants; new US arrivals are vital members of our work force. This is why we, unlike most organized labor factions, enthusiastically support the current administration's proposals for instituting a guest-worker program nationwide. We would welcome the opportunity to draw from an even larger pool of qualified applicants, and to help those we hire advance through our ranks and share in our success. Nurturing such talent is how hotels and other hospitality-industry players succeed in competitive markets such as the East Bay. And this is how Woodfin has built its business.
Hugh Macintosh, general manager, Woodfin Suites Hotel, Emeryville


Don't dare check in
The Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition is a broad-based coalition of individuals and organizations, working to build a unified voice for immigrant rights, that transforms and improves the lives of immigrants. We've been proud to stand on the picket line with hundreds of other supporters including Emeryville residents, students, immigrant rights advocates, faith leaders, and labor organizations.

Woodfin asserts that it was obligated to fire the 21 immigrant workers because it received "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration, but "no-match" letters are solely used to inform workers that they are not being properly credited for their earnings, and are no indication of workers' immigration status. SSA no-match letters state: "You should not use this letter to take any adverse action against an employee, such as laying off, suspending, firing, or discriminating against that individual, just because his or her Social Security number appears on the list. Doing so could, in fact, violate state or federal law and subject you to legal consequences."

When the Woodfin fired the 21 workers before Christmas, it was to get rid of the workers who were standing up for their rights under Measure C, Emeryville's hospitality living wage law. This is where Woodfin has acted irresponsibly and called upon themselves the opposition of the community and of dozens of immigrant rights, faith, student, and labor organizations.

On behalf of the workers, we urge everyone to honor their boycott and not check in to the Woodfin Suites. We join over three dozen organizations in boycotting the Woodfin until it reverses its direction and respects the labor rights of its immigrant workers, pays them the more than $160,000 in back wages they are owed, and drops attempts to fire them, providing them with permanent job security.

When BAIRC attended a picket at the Woodfin on February 17, we were stunned to see that the hotel had hired a fleet of security guards to surround the hotel, placed videographers on the roof, and marked off hotel property with caution tape. It looked more like a crime scene or the site of a terrorist threat than a place anyone would want to spend the night. These actions, along with Woodfin's failed attempt to place a restraining order against the workers' supporters, are clear attempts to silence the community's outrage over Woodfin's treatment of its workers.

It won't work. The anti-immigrant sentiment that our communities are experiencing in the form of workplace harassment, immigration raids, and other violence will not dissuade us. We will continue to support immigrant workers against the Woodfin. Joyously we will wake up early on Saturday mornings and chant: "Boycott the Woodfin. Don't you dare check in."
Evelyn Sanchez, advocacy coordinator, Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Oakland

"Land Sharks," Cityside, 2/14

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/2007-02-14/news/land-sharks/

Sharks don't bite themselves
Not quite sure who the Express is talking to aside from the people quoted. It is interesting that you made no real effort to talk to any of the hockey people playing at San Jose or Fremont. There are currently well over a hundred hockey teams playing at Logitech Ice alone.

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