Bohemian Club Workers Stage Two-Day Strike

By | April 27th, 2018

About 100 employees were expected to be part of a planned strike over a labor dispute at the San Francisco club that is the result of nearly nine months of tense bargaining between the workers’ union and the club’s management. The club has said it is willing to raise wages beginning May 1, with an increase of $5-an-hour for servers, $4.50 for front-desk staff, and $2.50 for all other employees.

A smoldering labor dispute intensified April 26 at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, when the staff of bussers, cooks, waiters, dishwashers and other employees walked off the job and onto the picket line, kicking off a two-day strike meant to jolt the club’s managers into making concessions on a new contract, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

About 100 employees were expected to strike by day’s end, the Chronicle reported.

Nearly nine months of increasingly tense bargaining between the workers’ union, Unite Here Local 2, and the club’s management has done little to bring the two sides closer together on the central points dividing them, the Chronicle reported.

Founded in 1872, the Bohemian Club does not allow women to become members and permits them to enter the premises by special invitation only. The club also resisted hiring women until it was forced to do so in 1987 after a long legal battle, the Chronicle reported.

Bohemian Club workers planned to set up a picket line from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, returning to work Saturday morning. Both sides consider the negotiations ongoing, the Chronicle reported.

“Overall, this strike is about sending a message to management that we’re fed up with the way things have gone, and that we expect them to re-evaluate their position in our future bargaining,” said Local 2 President Anand Singh.

Richard Hill, an attorney at the Littler Mendelson law firm representing the club’s management, said the union has been inflexible and evasive—prone to making sweeping demands, but not specific economic proposals that would help move negotiations along, the Chronicle reported.

“The club is committed to paying wages and benefits that are at the market for private clubs in San Francisco,” Hill said.

Despite the strike, “the club is functioning normally,” said Sam Singer, a spokesman for the organization. “Management anticipated the union walkout and took appropriate actions to staff the club at normal levels. A number of union employees are not participating in the union’s walkout and have come to work today.”

The union’s bargaining committee, made up of a cross-section of employees, voted April 16 to authorize Local 2 to call a strike—the motion passed with 93 percent support. “I’m talking to everybody, and they’re not happy. Everyone says, ‘No, this is not right.’ The workers aren’t getting the right treatment,” said Qudratullah Afshar, who has worked at the Bohemian Club for 27 years.

Afshar makes $18.25 an hour as a busser and server, but the cost of commuting from his home in San Leandro to San Francisco each day eats away at his earnings, he said. To support his family—four children, his mother and his wife, who works at a hotel—he’s taken a second job at a country club in Burlingame, the Chronicle reported.

The club’s management, Hill said, is amenable to raising wages and negotiating other issues, but said the union has been slow to provide the club with a detailed economic proposal, the Chronicle reported.

In a letter sent to union leaders April 24, Hill said the club was willing to raise wages for several employee classes beginning May 1. The club’s proposal includes raising wages for servers by $5 an hour and for front-desk staff by $4.50 an hour. All other employees would get $2.50 per hour raises. The club has also offered to pay full-time workers a “signing bonus” that averages around $5,000 per employee. That offer was made in an effort to avert a strike, and Hill said the club is willing to go higher, the Chronicle reported.

“We want the employees to see that we’re not holding back money. If they go on strike, it’s not because the club is being cheap,” Hill said.

Local 2 President Anand Singh responded by saying the union was “agreeable to immediate wage increases,” but with the caveat that those increases don’t restrict the union from bargaining for higher rates in the future, the Chronicle reported.

It’s not the first time the club has contended with labor issues. In 2016, it paid $7 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by 600 employees who worked at its Bohemian Grove in Sonoma County—the 2,700-acre campground where the club hosts an annual retreat. The employees charged that they were the victims of wage theft. The club admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, the Chronicle reported.

The club’s health care benefits are “quite good” for full-time workers, said Singh, who leads negotiations on behalf of the union. But around 75 percent of the club’s unionized employees are part-time, he said, and don’t work enough hours to qualify. Singh said the union is looking to change that, in addition to demanding that the club lessen its reliance on ad hoc scheduling, which forces employees to grapple with irregular, changing shifts, the Chronicle reported.

“It is easier to qualify for benefits at a Local 2 establishment than at any employer I’ve ever seen,” said Hill, the club’s attorney. Singh, he said, is “talking about people who are working 15 to 25 hours per month, and he’s complaining that somebody who works that little isn’t getting full benefits. You have to have a perverse way of looking at the world to feel the club is treating people unfairly because people aren’t getting benefits.”

In addition to haggling over the details of wage and benefit increases, the union and the club are at an impasse over noneconomic issues. Local 2 leadership has called on management to make it easier for union representatives to meet with employees inside the club itself, particularly in the cafeteria where workers take their breaks, the Chronicle reported.

Having unfettered access to members, Singh said, “is an essential function of being able to adequately contact and represent our members.” It’s a level of access the union enjoys at other private clubs and hotels across San Francisco and San Mateo County, he said. Local 2 represents about 12,000 hospitality workers in San Francisco and San Mateo County, the Chronicle reported.

Hill said management believes the union should provide “advance notice” when it intends to meet with its members. The cafeteria, he said, should remain off limits. Conducting union business there would be “disruptive” to the nonunion employees who also take breaks there, Hill said.

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