Jef Eatchel with La Costa valet. "We will not give up!”
Jeff Eatchel, secretary-treasurer of Restaurant Hotel Workers Local 30, motions to colleagues, “Go all the way up against the corner, all the way. Keep going. All the way up against the wood, go, keep going."
Demonstration at Embarcadero Holiday Inn, Sept. 10, 1993. “Go all the way up against the corner."
Eatchel is pacing Holiday Inn’s lobby, waving his arms like a London traffic cop, as members of Local 30 and union teamsters, electricians, and carpenters file through a whining revolving door. The union members, 54 of them, are working-class and middle-aged. Most are wearing jeans and T-shirts. Many of the T-shirts stretch tightly across pot bellies.
Union Yes rally, November 10, 1993
This is the Holiday Inn.Embarcadero. Its lobby is being remodeled; plywood and plastic sheathing cover the east wall making the lobby half again as small, thus allowing demonstrators to fill it up, cram it tight, except for two aisles left open for hotel patron traffic. Demonstrators sit cross-legged on the floor, elbow to elbow, bringing back memories of a 1960s sit-in. But this is not granny glasses and long hair and smoking pot in the dorm. For Eatchel, this is serious business.
Eatchel with Kacia, a dancer. "Pacer’s, the strip joint, we went after them. That was on Hard Copy."
Union officials hand out leaflets as Eatchel strides, head up, around the lobby, like a captain on a whaling ship. “...Our rooms went from 16 to 18!”
Demonstrators yell, “BOO! BOO!”
Local 30 is holding this sit-in to protest increasing room quotas, eliminated job positions, sub-contracting out the airport shuttle — a series of job changes instituted by Holiday Inn’s general manager, Ron Cribbet.
Robert Fisher, Nancy Browning, Michele Keith, Jef Eatchel, Jose Ayala, Al Abarca
Eatchel, slim, 5'10", well-trimmed brown beard and hair, has been Local 30’s secretary-treasurer for seven years. He’s here with his business manager, Nancy Browning, and business representatives Michele Keith, Al Abarca, lose Ayala, and Robert Fisher. (Browning and Eatchel are married. Browning has been a business manager/representative for 12 years, they’ve been married for four years. She had the job long before the romance.)
“...And when housekeeping employees were unable to meet that quota, more than 50 of those employees were written up!”
“BOO! BOO! BOO!” The sound of three-score voices saturates the lobby, moves into the hallway, explodes out the front door.
“BOO! BOO! BOO!”
“Many of these people have been put on final notice. Some employees were suspended.”
“NOOO! BOO! BOO!
“One of the employees was terminated.”
A Holiday Inn bell captain hovers by his desk, arms folded.
Two cashiers sneak a look at Eatchel while toting up a customer’s bill. An elderly couple in the gift shop place their faces on its glass door and gape.
“But the union has filed arbitrations on these cases and will take it is far as need be.”
Eatchel has found his rhythm now, stalks the room, charismatic, in command.
“There are 200 employees on this property. This week they signed a petition, directed to their general manager, to bring back dignity and respect here at the Holiday Inn. Over 90 percent of the workers signed that petition.”
“YEAH!” An ear-ringing round of applause. “YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!”
“Some of the employees have been here 10, 15, 17, 20 years. The general manager has been here one year.”
“BOO! BOO! BOO! GET RID OF HIM!"
“This general manager is what we consider to be a Marriott reject. Came out of the Marriott chain, came to the Holiday Inn and brought his anti-unionism with him.”
“BOO! BOO!” A half-dozen hotel security guards arrive. They wear blue blazers, embossed name tags, carry walkie-talkies.
“When the employees, 90 percent strong, signed the petition, delivered it, 25 representatives strong, to the general manager, he would not face them. He slithered out the back door!”
“BOOOOO! SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKE!” After the last “snake” demonstrators guffaw while bug-eyed security guards speed-rap into walkie-talkies. Blue-suited executives gawk from the quiet of an adjacent hallway. The room is stuffed, expectant. Something is going to happen.
"But we will not give up!” Eatchel’s voice shifts into overdrive. I he petition has been forwarded to Holiday Inn, to their home office, making them aware that they should send someone out here to set this guy straight.”
Security guards bustle, walk around the room in tighter circles. Mom, dad, two children enter the lobby, the man’s eyes pop, “What in the hell..."
“We are asking and demanding that general manager Ron Cribbet sign this petition and restore the dignity and respect, peace and harmony we’ve had here for 14 years. And if he does not sign this document, if he does not restore the respect that these people have earned and deserve, well take it from him! Eatchel is on a roll.
A union woman shouts, “That’s right!” Others begin to chant.
“We want Ron! We want Ron! We want Ron! We want Ron!” Three maids look down from a second-floor balcony; two smile, one appears to blush. Hotel security guards move about the throng. One, with a linebacker’s build, confronts Al Abarca, a Local 30 business representative, who is filming the event on a camcorder. The man tells Abarca to stop filming.
Abarca waves him off, “Back off, just back off.”
“No, you’re in my hotel.”
“You’re in my hotel.”
“I don’t think I see your name on the building." Demonstrators begin to chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, union buster’s got to go.” Then Eatchel, switching to Marine Corps cadence, begins.
- Everywhere we go-O
- Everywhere we go-O
- People want to know-O
- People want to know-O
- Who we are-are
“Does this happen frequently?”
“Gary Griggs is our director of marketing, he’ll be glad to speak with you.”
I continue, “This is just kind of out of the blue, huh?” “Out of the blue as far as I’m concerned.”
“Do you think they want something from you?”
“Are you going to find out what they want?”
“I’m not interested."
“They’re your employees, aren’t they?”
“No, they’re not employees, there may be some employees in there, but most of them are not employees.”
“They represent your employees.”
“Not those people.”
“Sure they do, there’s the business manager of a union you have a contract with.”
- Who we are-are
- So we tell them
- So we tell them
- We are the union
- We are the union
- Mighty, mighty union
- Mighty, mighty union
General Manager Ron Cribbet, square-jawed, clean-shaven, wearing a Vegas pit-boss, shiny gray suit, walks into the lobby, then hurriedly passes on, out a side door, and stands by the hotel’s entrance. I catch up with him, introduce myself, ask, “What are they complaining about, do you know?”
“I have no idea.”
“There’s one gentlemen in there that does, that’s true.” “Don’t you want to hear what he has to say?”
“Sure if he wants to come and talk to me. I’m right here.”
“Isn’t he talking now?”
“I don’t know what he’s doing. If he wants to come and talk to me, here I am.” A well-dressed couple arrives at the door. Cribbet shows a practiced smile, “Nothing to worry about. I think it’s a religious group.” The revolving door opens, all of us hear, “HEY, HEY, HI, HO, UNION BUSTER HAS TO GO!”
I move closer to Cribbet, “What are you going to do?”
“Your lobby is filled with people chanting and you’re not going to do anything?"
“It’s a public place, anybody can gather here."
“Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that anybody can come into your lobby, sit on the floor, and chant?”
“If they don’t block the doors.”
“You mean I can go to El Cajon and get 50 Hells Angels, come here and sit on the lobby floor, and that would be fine?” “That would be legal.”
Cribbet walks away and leaves me with Gary Griggs.
I look over to Mr. Griggs, “He doesn’t want to talk to me.” “Right, right.”
We stand and contemplate our shoes. Long pause ensues. I finish with shoe appraisal, muster, “Well, what do you think, take Denver and the points? You’d have to be a fool to bet against Denver at home."
Time passes. Police arrive, eight cars’ worth plus three cops in civilian dress. I find Cribbet.
“You told me it was a legal gathering. Why did you call the police if it was legal?”
“You said it was legal.”
Cribbet’s voice rises an octave. “Oh, it’s legal to come into the hotel, but it’s illegal for them to block and impede my customers. It’s illegal.”
“I see. Is that what they’re doing?”
“That’s correct. If they cause any harm to my business, then they’re trespassing and they’re causing harm to my business.” “Well, that’s a pretty rapid change. Just a few minutes ago you said it was a legal gathering, I could bring bikers in from El Cajon.”
“You could bring them in as long as they don’t disturb my customers."
“How do you know if it’s an obstruction, what’s the criteria?” “It’s what we decide the number is.”
More cops arrive. Police presence now at overkill proportions. Cribbet tells the newly arrived officers in a high, fast voice, “They’re impeding traffic, they’re to be removed.” Now Cribbet, ever the hotelier, slips into schmooze mode, oozing to a hotel underling, “Have you met Phil Dwight from the police department?” Inside the building we hear.
- Two, four, six, eight...
- Why can’t you...
- Get it straight?
- Respect the union!
- Respect the union!
Police move into the hotel and arrest Eatchel, Nancy Browning, Michele Keith, and Local 30 organizer Robert Fisher. By prior arrangement, other union officials are left behind to oversee a peaceful withdraw. Union supporters file out the front door, chanting, "We'll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”
So what brings all these people into the Holiday Inn’s lobby just to fuck with Ron Cribbet’s day? This isn’t Detroit, or New York, or Boston. This is San Diego, where unions have about as much muscle as Sunday’s plump chicken.
According to many workers at the Holiday Inn Embarcadero, Cribbet had changed job assignments and increased workloads, which got employees so riled they called or came by the union to complain. So Eatchel ordered a meeting, invited Holiday Inn Embarcadero employees down to the hall to discuss the situation and plan strategy.
It is one week before the sit-in. We are in the second-floor conference room of Local 30, Juniper Street and First. The room is 80 by 25 feet. Six cafeteria tables are laid end-to-end, chairs and couch in the back. There’s a fridge, and by the door a computer and coffee pot.
All the seats around the conference tables are taken. More chairs are brought in and quickly claimed. The room is packed tight. Attendees appear to be 85 percent Hispanic, 60 percent female. The dress is polyester minimum wage. At least half the crowd speaks only Spanish. The women are in their 30s and 40s; most are respectable, hard-working, Mexican Catholic mothers whose whole world is the family.
Eatchel is explaining his reasons for the proposed demo. “And if they didn’t have enough work already doing 16 rooms, without sitting down and talking with the housekeeping staff, and without sitting down with the union, he raised it to 18 rooms within seven and a half hours. And they get no reduction for anything.”
Jose Ayala, a Local 30 business agent, stands next to Eatchel and translates.
Eatchel takes a position at the head of the table. “Cribbet comes from the Marriott. The most notorious anti-union hotel in the country. In the Marriott, if you’re a general manager, you’re Cod. Because if an employee doesn’t like the working conditions, and they don’t have a union contract, they’re fired.”
Jose translates. Middle-aged Mexican women turn to each other. Heads gravely nod, “Yes, this is the truth.”
“They also gave Cribbet the Holiday Inn-Harbor View. That Holiday Inn is non-union. The company said, ‘Our general manager doesn’t know what he’s doing down there, we need to send Ron Cribbet, the Wonder Boy, over there and he’ll take care of the place.’ Guess what happened to those employees? They came down here to the union, they want to be union now.
“Guess what he gave those non-union employees when he took their meals away? —” Traditionally, the hotel industry gives employees one free meal a day. “— He gave them zip. Nothing. Guess how many employees got an increase last year? A handful at best. How many employees did they lay off in accordance with seniority? And then Cribbet had the nerve to call me and say to me, ‘Why are you coming into my Holiday Inn on Harbor View?’ I said, ‘I didn’t go down there. The way you treat them, they came looking for me.’ ”
Pause for translation, more nodding of heads, group countenance now set to a solemn expression.
“We have earned the right to be treated with respect, we have earned the right to be treated with dignity in the workplace. There is not one person in this room that is making his fair share today. You have to understand that you are the people who are responsible for whether the Holiday Inn is a good place to come and whether customers will return. If I’m a guest and I walk into the front door, the first person I see is either a bellman or the front desk. If management takes a day off tomorrow, could the hotel still run?"
English speakers laugh, Jose translates, the rest join in. All around the table, one hears, “Yes, yes, yes,” in Spanish and English. “Now, if you guys all took a day off, could the hotel run?” A young Hispanic male, standing near the door, calls out, “No! Hell, no.”
“That’s where management loses our respect. What is the only time when someone looks for management? It’s when something goes wrong. One of the most difficult parts of my job and Nancy’s job is, in the workplace, they treat you like children and they treat you like you’re stupid. Both of which you are not!” It’s like a rocket went off. The applause is deafening, many Hispanic women’s eyes tear up. Eatchel has his hands on the guts of it now, has hit the collective nerve dead on. You wonder how many times in their lives these women have seen an English-speaking white man regard them as stupid, how many times, how many hundreds of times, they’ve been treated with disrespect.
“They constantly tell me in every hotel, or every restaurant, or every bar, every place I represent, how you all are one big happy family, and how you just love working at their place. And don’t get me wrong, it’s nice if you enjoy where you work. But I would challenge Ron Cribbet to stand at the front door and ask every employee, ‘You can either stay here and work today or you can go home and I’ll pay you.’ ”
There is a soft, building ocean wave of chuckle as workers consider the absurdity of taking the day off with pay.
“They’ve gone after the housekeepers. My big question is, who’s next? If the sit-in does not get their attention, we’re not done. We’re going to leaflet customers on their way into the Holiday Inn, in many of the Holiday Inns.
“Okay,” Eatchel looks around the room slowly, “I’ve got one last request. Fill out the petition, fill out the letters. We’re going to march into the hotel and into Ron Cribbet’s office and present this to him. I know it’s difficult with the way you’re being treated presently. I need people to go with me because I’m going to hand the petition to him. We had six volunteers from this morning’s meeting, we now have eight volunteers total. Who has the courage to face him eye-to-eye with me handing him the petition? I want some more people. Please raise your hand. Come on, I need some people to walk in there with me.”
Buzz, buzz, neighbor turns to neighbor, “You...me, you...me,” — hands are raised, much applause, many hands now, half the room, raucous applause and laughter.
It is three hours after the Holiday Inn sit-in. Eatchel, Browning, Keith, and Fisher have been released from jail on their own recognizance and are back in Local 30’s conference room. They are joined by Al Abarca and lose Ayala. Everyone gathers around the large television monitor to review Abarca’s videotape of the demo. Eatchel paces, critiques his troops, discusses what to do differently the next time. The tape ends, congratulations are passed around, all agree it was a successful action. Next task is to write a follow-up leaflet. Nancy sits over a yellow legal pad, pen scratching away. Eatchel continues to pace.
Nancy reads, “ ‘...representatives of many different unions...’ ” Jose: “ ‘Unions of all.’ It shouldn’t be just union members, you’ve got to let them know that it’s all unions.”
Jef: “ ‘Union members from all different crafts.’ ”
Nancy, a little annoyed: “I have that.” Reading again, “ ‘It was comprised of representatives of many different unions throughout San Diego.' ” She looks up. “Okay?”
Nancy: “Then, should we put, ‘We held this demonstration to show...’ "Two young women, union office workers from downstairs, rush into the room, one gasps, “We’ve been trying to call you guys, but nobody answers.”
The other woman interrupts, “One of the housekeepers called and said the manager is distributing letters.”
Everyone smiles, a voice murmurs, “All right, we got Cribbet nervous now.”
Nancy, head down, back to work, “Okay, is there anything else you want to put in?”
Jef: “Yeah, a lot more.”
Nancy, “What else, what else?”
Jef: “You got to put in. This demonstration was held on your behalf.’ ’’
Nancy: “You don’t like this part, ‘...to show Wonder Boy he cannot mistreat union employees without a fight.’ ”
Jef: “No, it’s close though,” he thinks for a second, “ ‘...to show Wonder Boy that he cannot...’ ” Eatchel stops pacing, “Say what you said again.”
Nancy, “ ‘To show Wonder Boy that he cannot mistreat union employees without a fight...’ ”
Jef: “...‘with your brothers and sisters in organized labor. Furthermore, if Ron thinks that the fight is only employees at the Holiday Inn Embarcadero he better think again.’ No, try this: ‘If Ron thinks that this is a one hotel fight, all of organized labor will band together to support you, the employees, against this tyrant.’ Got to put something in there that keeps going with the ‘You have support throughout the labor community.’ ”
Union wages, pick an industry, doesn’t matter which one, on average, are 27 percent higher than non-union. And one significant reason for those higher wages is that when money time rolls around, management has somebody across the table who is not beholden to them, who is not employed by them, who has the potential, at any time, to pound on the table and bark, “Listen to me, you cheap son-of-a-bitch. I’ll make your life hell.”
For Jef Eatchel, an outburst like that is rare, reserved for gross violations, for situations where there is no other way. Most negotiations follow a script, a dance familiar to both sides. Normally, interactions at the bargaining table are courteous and intensely boring, like the one held at a Mission Bay hotel last fall. Discussions took place in the hotel conference room. Present are Eatchel, Nancy Browning, Michele Keith, and three men from management.
Jef studies the room, takes a drag off a cigarette. “Okay, what we’re going to try and do, one more time, is to go through this and make sure we understand each other. On Page 1, d, under section 5 is okay. Page 7, a, f, and h are okay. A and b are rejected on your side, right?”
“Okay, c, on the following page is okay. Health and welfare, as you’re saying, is rejected. C and h are rejected on our side. Successor clause, without the successor clause then we are back into the notification as stated in the present contract. Duration will be one year, is that okay?”
“It’s my obligation to take it back to the members. What I need to know is if this is your last and best and final?”
“As you know, there’s three ways I bring contracts back to the membership. I’ll say to the members, ‘I think it’s a good contract, the committee thinks it’s a good contract. I’m submitting this to you as a good contract, and I would give it my blessing if it was up to me, but it’s not.’ Number two, I take a contract back to them and say, ‘I’m going to present this to you. I’ll let you discuss it, and I want you to let me know what you want. I’m not going to give it a recommendation one way or the other. It’s up to you.’ And the last one. I’ll say, ‘I think you should fight and go after your rights, but it’s still up to you.’ They vote and they do it by secret vote. Again, I have not had a strike yet; I’ve come really close. I don’t believe in strikes because I think you can smack an employer harder leading up to a strike, by going after him in numerous different ways. When I go back. I’ll make this proposal to them as a Number 3. I’ll get back to you and let you know.” We stand up. On the way out, Eatchel and I decide to have a drink. We walk up carpeted steps through the dining room into the hotel bar. Eatchel exchanges greetings with several waiters, works his way to the end of the room, takes a corner seat at the bar, hails the bartendress, “Hi, Bobby, how are you doing?” “Courvoisier?”
“No, no. I’ll have a beer.”
Other employees stop by, ask about the negotiations. An attractive, mid-30s woman, a hotel executive, steps behind the bar, begins to trade banter, insults, and industry gossip. Bobby serves up a Miller’s beer, mockingly says to Eatchel, “See you still got the cheap green suit.” She nods to the hotel woman, “If that suit could tell stories, what stories that suit could tell.”
"I was elected secretary-treasurer in 1986. I started as a business agent in 1981. Before that I was a cook at La Costa. They had an apprenticeship program there, that was 1977 or ’78.” I’m sitting in Eatchel’s office on Juniper Street. It is an executive’s office, plaques of appreciation on the wall, a good carpet, sitting chairs, a bank of windows. I look across his large, brown desk and ask, “What are you, about 42?”
Eatchel was born in Salt Lake City. His dad was a rep for a hardware line, and his mom worked as a hostess for Marie Callender’s. He married a local girl. Her father owned a restaurant, “gave me my first job when I was 15, I was a dishwasher.”
Eatchel’s father-in-law vacationed at La Costa, wanted to retire in California, so as a first step he opened a restaurant in Solana Beach and asked Eatchel to join him. The restaurant didn’t work out and later on Eatchel’s marriage didn’t, but, “I really loved to cook, and since my father-in-law was a member of La Costa, I applied for a job there. That was the first time I heard the word union. I had no idea what a union was. Utah is anti-union as hell.
“It was funny, because La Costa was paid for by the Teamsters. Some of the cooks would say, ‘Well, we got an increase,’ and I’d say, ‘Where the hell did that increase come from?’ And they’d say, The union got it for us.’ I thought, ‘That’s not a bad deal; I’m paying nine bucks a month dues and I just got a 30-cent-an hour increase.’ And then I got terminated for something I didn’t do.
“When you’re cooking, if something is canceled, you say, ‘86 it.’ It was a real busy night and I’d done four or five prime ribs. I’d lost count, and I went to the back of the kitchen and said, ‘I need another prime rib,’ and somebody said, ‘86 it,’ so I went up to the front, one of the waitresses was there, and I told her, ‘86 it.’ The chef came walking around the corner and saw that 86 was written on the chalkboard and went berserk. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ He kept calling me a shoemaker, ‘You piece of shit,’ and going on.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘Fuck you, nobody talks to me like that.’ I was fired. I got an attorney and sued La Costa on my own. I won my job back and an apology. So it wasn’t then, it was later on when I met the union, and that’s why I had such a hard-on for them.
“See, I had called the union first. I didn’t get a very good response. So I called again and complained, 'My business agent didn’t show up.’ A guy by the name of Pinky Schiffman — a legend, Herbert Pinky Schiffman — he’s the guy, they blew his car up in Florida in the ’60s, that’s the guy. He was assigned out here by the International to help put this union back together. And I got him on the phone and I said. This union stinks. Nobody represented me and bullshit on it.’ And I started talking to workers around l.a Costa saying, ‘Let’s get this union out of here, nobody’s doing anything for us.’
“So Pinky calls me on the phone, ‘You got some people with complaints?’ I said, ‘You’re goddamn right.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you set a meeting and I’ll come out and talk.’ So I did, right in my backyard in Carlsbad. I had some cooks there, bartenders, some room service, some bellmen.
“He came by and said, ‘One of the reasons I was sent out here from the International was to get this local in shape like it should be. Representation is lacking, the leadership is lacking, we got to get something done.’ It sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He asked a handful of us to sit in with him on negotiations. He said, ‘Look, give us a chance. If we don’t get a good contract you can get rid of us.’ And they did, they got us a great contract. That was ’79, ’80.
“Pinky was tough. He would have been a good extra in the Hoffa movie. I still see him, he lives in Palm Springs. He is your old-style, tough-guy labor leader. A real tough guy.
“I was back working at La Costa when we had that meeting with Pinky. The chef and I were starting to get along again. I wanted to learn how to cook, and this guy, instead of coming in and punching the clock, if you really had a desire to learn, this guy, Willie Hauser, would take you under his wing and go crazy. I would go in on my own and work with him because he was a master. He was fabulous. And then I met Pinky.
“I sat in on negotiations. It was unbelievable. I had never witnessed that before. Everybody told me. La Costa being union for a zillion years, that at contract time, all of a sudden the union would show up and announce, ‘Here is your contract.’ When Pinky came in he laid it out different. ‘You know, that’s the problem, there’s never been input from the membership.’ He said, ‘It’s your contract.’ He was brutally honest. ‘Look, I get paid every week, I have no problems, but this is your contract, you’ve got to live with it. I’m not the union, you are. You guys want to do something about it, fine. You get me some employees from all departments and I’ll get you guys a contract.’
“The first La Costa negotiations, there was the general manager, the food and beverage director, resources, and the assistant general manager sitting on one side of the table. And there was Pinky, the person who was running the union at the time, and ten employees. I remember the people — Roger the bartender, Joyce the cocktail waitress, Ronnie the maintenance guy. When we got that first session done, Pinky said, ‘You don’t have a goddamn bellman here. You guys go out and you get me a bellman or you tell them they ain’t going to get shit in the contract.’
“I do the same thing today. I’ll never let this concept die. I’m doing the Hotel Del right now. I put a notice out at the workplace that says, ‘Your contract negotiations have started. If you would like to get involved with these negotiations, we will have a meeting.’
“The people who want to come to negotiations form a CAT team. Contract Action Team. When the CAT team gets together, my first question is, ‘What do you want? What’s important to you?’ It’s funny, I did the Kona Kai and the Shelter Island Marina Inn. The properties are side by side. The employees of one thought it was so important that they get paid holiday pay on their birthday, very important to them. The others are saying, ‘We want sick pay.’ ”
Eatchel prefers a three-year contract but will sign for four if the money is right. “We have different contracts with each employer. They’re not the same. La Costa employees are a real tight-knit group that say, ‘We know that we’re members of Local 30, but we’re members of Local 30 here at La Costa, and when we go to fight, we’ll fight tooth and nail.’ And they’ll go after it. And that’s why when you compare contracts like the La Costa contract as opposed to the Hotel Del, there hasn’t been real strong unity in Hotel Del when it comes to employee rights. The contract depends on the people who work there.
“We had a problem one time. You look at Jack Murphy Stadium and the Sports Arena, the two most easily compared properties when it comes to responsibilities. You go to Jack Murphy Stadium, do you want a beer? You’re gonna have to have somebody pour you a beer. Want nachos? Someone puts some cheese on it. Want a hot dog? Here’s your seller. It’s the same thing at the Sports Arena. But the difference in the contracts was like night and day. Jack Murphy Stadium was doing so much better because those employees were willing to fight.
“The Sports Arena employees, in the late ’80s, all of a sudden decided, ‘Enough is enough’ and went after the employer. Shit, we had sit-downs, we had meetings, we had massive negotiations. There were 60-some employees at the Sports Arena. At one of our meetings 40 employees showed up. The employer heard about that and went, ‘Holy shit.’
“They had an NBA All-Star game at the Sports Arena, and we decided to have a sit-in. The reason we did that was the manager was dicking around with negotiations. He wouldn’t negotiate with us, he just sat there and bullshitted. He wasn’t about to give us the money and benefits we had at the stadium, and so we said, ‘All right.’
“So picture this, it’s NBA All-Stars, it’s sold out, you got national media coverage, and you’ve got 80 employees who are supposed to go to work. They’re supposed to start at 6:00 because the gates open at 6:30. At a quarter to six we all walk into the employer’s little room and sit on the floor. ‘We ain’t working.’ Now, where in the hell are you going to get 80 employees to come in and serve hot dogs and beer in the next 15 minutes?
“He freaked. He said, ‘If you don’t all go to work, you’re fired.’ We said, ‘All right, fire us, what are you going to do now?’ He waited and waited. We had a proclamation with us that said, ‘You will sit down and negotiate with us,’ because he let it go through five months of bullshit, and then he was trying to argue the retro (retroactive pay) and we said, ‘You will guarantee that when we settle on a contract we will get retro.’ And the proclamation went on, ‘You’re going to guarantee that you’re going to give us a fair and decent contract.’ And he came out and signed the proclamation and harrumphed, ‘All right, now go to work.’
“And everybody did. Everybody worked the game. It was a little slow getting started, we were about 20 minutes late, but they pulled it off, and the media didn’t catch it because we didn’t walk around with picket signs. We had the signs ready. If this guy wasn’t going to get real, then here’s ABC television and ESPN, we had signs for them saying, 'Good luck getting a hot dog and a beer tonight, folks.’
“I don’t have an easy job. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, sometimes it makes me butt my head against the wall. For instance, we got more publicity out of this Pacer’s deal. Pacer’s, the strip joint, we went after them. That was on Hard Copy, Jay Leno used it, Arsenio Hall used it on his program. It was on all the channels. And I went after it because of the seriousness of what’s going on in that place.
“It’s difficult for the union to go in there. You’re talking about dancers and. bartenders that do relatively well in their wages. The employer was pulling back some of their money and benefits. But I never felt there was a serious enough commitment by enough employees to become union. There should be, and that’s one of the frustrating parts of this job, when you see people being taken advantage of as grossly as those dancers are being taken advantage of, and we still lost the election.” (Pacer’s first union election was held June 4,1993.) “Unbelievable. I don’t understand it. There’s more sexual harassment going on inside that club by the owner and operators and managers than the clients ever thought about.
“The vote was 60 against to 28 or 29 for, with some challenged ballots. The employer violated the law so grossly that the National Labor Relations Board has ordered a second election. But let’s face it, we lost. My people wonder, ‘Are these dancers, bartenders, deejays, and doormen dedicated enough to come out and be union?’ Because it’s not easy to be union in this town. I would say under 10 percent of the hotels and restaurants are union. It’s really easy to be non-union, real easy, employers love it.
“Pacer’s employees are the ones that have got to come out and do it. Everybody likes to point the finger. ‘Oh, the union didn’t do this, and the union didn’t do that.’ Hey, I’m not the union, I’m just the guy elected to watch over it. If they don’t have the commitment, then there’s no hope for them.”
I’m smoking a cigarette in the Hilton, Mission Bay parking lot, gearing up for the first organization meeting of round two — the second union election at Pacer’s.
The union is represented by Eatchel, business manager Nancy Browning, business agent Michele Keith, and Jonas Katz, an attorney working for the International. Katz — 65 years old, gray hair, craggy-faced — has spent a generation traveling around the country assisting union locals in contract negotiations. He is here to back up Eatchel and play a little tennis.
The meeting is set for 7:00 p.m. in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms. The union side is here early; only three dancers have arrived. Michele, Nancy, Jonas are clearly skeptical. None believe that Pacer’s employees will do the work required to pull off a successful election. All see this evening as a waste of time, all would like to pull the plug now, all except Eatchel.
Thirty minutes pass and only six employed dancers have found their way to the conference table, plus Dianne Westly, who was a dancer at Pacer’s for 11 years, helped organize the first union election, and was then fired. All but one of the women are dressed modestly — cotton pants and loose blouses—like they’ve stopped in here for a moment before going on to the laundromat. All the dancers are in their 20s, four of the six are blonde. They’re pretty, but none appear gorgeous.
A dancer is speaking, “Four girls are definite for tomorrow, (another Pacer’s meeting is scheduled here tomorrow] and we left messages on everybody’s machines. Crystal is pretty much a ‘No.’ I saw her at work and asked, ‘How long are you working?’ ‘Fight o’clock.’ I said, ‘Oh, that means you’re coming to the meeting.’ And she looked at me and kind of laughed.”
Jef; “If we get into this situation again tomorrow night (just six workers showing up], well, if there’s a meeting, I’d like there to be a reason.”
Michele: “It’s been like this since the beginning. You’ve got to have some pride in yourself and what you do.”
Jef: “Exactly, no matter what you do. There’s no fire right . now, smoke yes, but no flames."
Woman: “Okay, let’s start lighting the fire now, let’s tell them now...”
Jef: “We can’t say anything until we have a fire. We’ve ordered bumper stickers, we’ve ordered two-and-a-half-inch buttons. And Kim, when the buttons come in, you hit them with a second flyer. Andi, which is busier, Mondays or Tuesdays?”
Andi: “If you’re going to do Tuesday, then forget about 11:30 in the morning, hit them at 2:00 o’clock.”
“What about Wednesday?”
“Early, 11:30 until 2:00.”
Jef: “Let me give you the scenario behind this, it’s called the 30, 60, 90-day rule. Our campaign, we give it 30 days to see if it can start to develop. You guys have the issues, but are you willing to go forward on the issues?
“In the next 30 days we have a couple meetings like this, and we see how many people show up that are new. Let’s say we have four new people that show up tomorrow, and they say, ‘I’ve gotten the flyers. I’ve gotten the information, and I’m a yes vote, but a) I don’t want them to know who I am; b) I got other things to do with my time; and c) you guys are really boring, but I’ll vote yes anyway.’ We say, ‘Fine, go away. You’re done.’
“That’s what we have to figure out in the next 60 days. If we can’t say, ‘Let’s have a mock vote, if we can’t win a mock vote, well, let’s unplug and run. Because it’s over and we don’t want to be fools.
“The most frustrating thing in an organizing drive is, you look for some magical answer out there that says, ‘If I do this, then this and this will happen.’ We do it all the time. ‘Well, if we have the meeting at the Hilton, maybe that will work.’ What will sell? Shit, who knows? It’s like clothes designers, who knows what will be hot next year? Even paying people to come to an organizing meeting doesn’t work. Barbecues, how about Padres tickets? We had a union party, gave away Padres tickets to a sky box that included all you could drink and all you could eat, and we gave away 175 tickets and 75 people showed up and that was when the Padres had a team.
“You guys,” Eatchel looks around the table of topless dancers. “What happens if one of you has to have an operation? What happens if your family has problems? The owner is making a good dollar because of you people. Take the girls out of Pacer’s and leave him standing in there serving drinks, he’s going to be lonely.
“When he opens up the doors and walks in there, he’s God. ‘I run it and everyone does what I say.’ He thinks you’re his people, you’re his children, you’re a happy family. It’s bullshit.
“If they want to go after you, you’re done, and you guys know that because you see it in the workplace. He can walk in tomorrow and he can fire you, and there’s very little you can do. It’s difficult and it’s going to get a lot worse once they [the National l.abor Relations Board | set an election date. Right now the owner’s thinking it’s no big deal. ‘Okay, so what, I violated the law five times. I don’t care. I know some of my employees get things stuffed in their locker. I’m not worried about it.’ Once they set an election date, you’ll see everything start to change.
“You saw it the last time Pacer’s had an election. Day by day, little by little, they put out lies and innuendoes. My favorite one is when the employer says, ‘I’ll just close down. I’ll shut the doors.’ Or, ‘I’ll turn Pacer’s into a country-western bar.’ If he thought a country-western bar would make more money than Pacer’s, he’d do it today. I mean, it’s a business decision.
“I’ve had restaurants, hotels tell me, ‘If the union wins, we’ll shut our doors.’ I say, ‘Good, I’ll bring a hammer and nails.’ It’s bullshit. This guy makes a fabulous living off Pacer’s. Don’t think he doesn’t. He’s got other people working for him. I mean, God bless him for it. This guy’s making money, he should, he should — just like I want Hilton to make money, La Costa to make money. All we want is our share. Let me ask you this, does anybody pay for your health insurance there?”
The women laugh.
“If nothing else changed in your workplace but that, if you got a medical program and a dental program, forget anything else, you’re way ahead. If you get sick pay or vacation pay, you’re even further ahead.”
Eatchel surveys the room, sighs, “We’ve got a lot of work to do on these lists.” At the far end of the room, hung high on a wall, are three six-foot strips of butcher paper. Written on them are the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every Pacer’s employee. In a column next to the employee names is the number 1,2, or 3.
Eatchel looks at the list. “Give you guys some explanations. We have what we call Ones, Twos, and Threes. When you look at a union vote, it’s real simple. We have to beat him by 50 percent of the people who vote plus one. That’s it.
“So, here’s how we break people down. The number ones are people that have done the following: they have either come to our house — which, tonight, this is our house — or they come to the union hall, or they let us in their house. When we knock on your door, ‘Hi, can we talk about the union?’ You say, ‘Come in,’ and we sit down, and at the end of that you say to us, 'I'm going to vote for the union.’ That’s it. If you say you’re going to vote for the union, you become a Number One. If we go knock on your door or you come to the union and we say, ‘What do you think about the union, here’s all the information,’ and you look at us and say, ‘We ain’t voting for the union, thank you very much, leave me alone,’ then you’re a Three, and that’s okay, but at least we get to tell you something so you don’t hear just the bullshit lies. We forget the Threes. They’re No’s, we know they’re No’s; we hope they don’t vote.
“The people that are Twos waver back and forth. They are the ones that are telling people, ‘Yes, I’ll be union,’ and they’re also telling the boss, every time he looks at them, ‘No, I’m not going union.’
“The Twos are the people that we work on. Those are the people that we try and convince, try and get information to, try to answer questions, and get them to vote yes. Right before the election, you count up the ones, and you count up the threes. If you have more ones than threes, you win! That’s it. It’s not a big deal, doesn’t take Einstein to figure it out. And it doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that you people have the issues."
A young blonde, dressed in designer jeans and blue cotton blouse, speaks up. “Forty percent of the tips that the bartenders get, they have to hand back to the club every single night.” “That’s bullshit,” says another blonde woman.
First woman: “Forty percent of their tip-out goes right back to the club. That’s how he pays his managers. He doesn’t pay Russell and those guys, he makes the bartenders and us pay them. He pays them shit, probably minimum wage.”
Michele: “When it comes right down to it, it’s his place and if you guys don’t stand up for yourself then he’ll do whatever he wants.”
Jef: “We don’t tell Pacer’s who to hire and not to hire, it’s not our business. As far as rules and regulations, as long as the employer is doing what’s fair to the employees, we don’t get involved. We just make sure you guys get what’s coming to you and you get additional benefits. That’s really what the union is.” Woman: “Suppose you go into negotiations with David, and he says, ‘I’m going to give all my employees a dollar raise an hour.’ We want more. You go back to David. Who’s going to make him give us more?”
Jef “We are. And the reason is when you go into negotiations, there’s a lot of action on the outside. The people who deliver stuff to your property, we can get them not to deliver it there. It doesn’t mean he can’t get it, he’ll send somebody over to get it, but we can inconvenience him. If we get the media on our side and start explaining our stand to the public, it’s going to put pressure on him. When his business starts to slack off because people think he’s a schmuck, he’ll come up with the money. The fastest way to get anybody’s attention is find their pocketbook." Woman: “Tell me how you’re going to pack Pacer’s.”
Jef: “We’re going to bring in a whole bunch of union people to Pacer’s. We’ll have buttons made up that say, ‘I support Pacer’s employees’ right to be union.’ And we’re going to bring in a couple hundred people to the bar. We’ve got a leaflet prepared that we’ll hand out that says, ‘We are the employees of Pacer’s. We’re the ones that provide you with the service and quality entertainment, and, by the way, did you know that every hour we work, the employer takes our money? Did you know he’s only paying us $4.25 an hour and then takes out $5 dollars an hour, and did you know that he makes the bartenders pay out 40 percent of their tips to management? We’d like you to let him know that it’s wrong. Here’s his address and his phone number. Please either call or write.’ ”
Woman: “There’s a sign on the wall about minimum wage and what he has to pay, and there’s a section about training. If you’re in training, you get paid a certain percentage of minimum wage. Everybody in that club that’s behind the bar trains for free. I trained for free for a week. Right now I’m training a girl for free. She’s not getting paid nothing. I’ve been there for eight years, okay? Started out as a dancer, I made $4.25, then I got a raise. Jack was alive then, David’s father, he was a super man, treated people like people and cared about them. I got my dance pay up to $5.75, then I finally got to bartending, and he dropped my pay to $5.00 an hour, and I haven’t got a raise in five years.”
Jonas takes off his glasses, rubs his eyes, speaks in a world-weary attorney’s voice. “There’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t have a union to derive a contract, they can do anything they want as long as they work out the minimum wage. That’s it, period. You don’t have any rights at all.”
Eatchel cases the table, “You guys have your responsibilities on who to contact. We’ll have another meeting tomorrow night and see where we go from there. Okay? All right, who’s going to stuff the lockers tomorrow?”
I wander into Eatchel’s office. The plan is to meet here and follow him over to Pacer’s. Today is demo-day. Phones ring. Union officials rush in and out. At this moment, Eatchel is trying to fashion a statewide employee’s contract for bowling alleys. Michele Keith enters, takes a seat in front of his big brown desk, and sighs, “Okay, I tried to call Pinky again on the bowling alley.”
An office girl stomps in from the waiting room. “On this letter to Bob Petering, we do not specify front desk people, right?” Eatchel: “lust say, ‘In regards to the petition that you sent us about the front desk at the Pickwick Hotel, Union Local 30 will not intervene.’ ”
Michele: “Why don’t we take them?"
Eatchel: “Why? Let him go in there, let him get his dick shot off one more time, and these people will come here on their own. We have enough going on. You want to do it right now?"
“I don’t either, I ain’t got the fucking time. Let me get back to this goddamn bowling alley.”
5:00 p.m. Nancy Browning, Michele Keith stand next to a van parked directly in front of Pacer’s. Eatchel has had velvet poke bags made up. Attached to the crown are large campaign-style buttons that read, “I Support Pacer’s Right To Be Union.” Inside each bag are 20 Susan B. Anthony dollars. Eatchel walks circles on the sidewalk handing out leaflets. Al Abarca mans the camcorder. Two men, middle-aged, walk towards the bar’s front door. Jef hands out leaflets, begins his spiel, “We are here to protect the rights..."
Although no media showed up for the Holiday Inn sit-in, tonight we’re talking tits-and-ass. Channel 39 has a camera crew. Three print reporters take notes. Jef does an on-camera interview while the first contingent of union people arrive in the parking lot. Twenty men and women saunter down the sidewalk to the union van, exchange greenbacks for silver dollars. Among the carpenters and teamsters and laborers is a union woman dressed in Brown Duck bib overalls, T-shirt, and work boots. “Give me some of that good union money," she says while handing over her 520 bill.
After an hour, I escort Dianne Westly into the club. We pass two bouncers at the door. Dianne has not been inside Pacer’s since she was fired for union activities six months ago. The NLRB ordered her reinstated, but she chose to leave the biz. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. It’s an unpleasant environment." Inside, every bar seat is taken, the booths lining either side of the room are full. On this night. Pacer’s is a union house. We make our way towards the stage area.
It is one thing to see these dancers in ordinary tops and cotton trousers, under bright lights at a conference room in a chain hotel. It is quite another to see these same women topless in dim light. Their thong bikinis accentuate utterly flat stomachs and jutting, tight butts. They bump and grind slowly, deliberately, against a metal pole. The male chest tightens, the male throat tightens. I feel the need for a deep breath.
Dianne and I take a ringside seat. Cocktail waitresses, moving fast, serve drinks. Pacer’s is a joint where a half-empty drink brings the question, “Would you like another?" I order a Coke and scotch and soda. Waitresses, one by one, stop by and welcome Dianne back.
In a moment, a tall (six-foot) dancer begins a table dance four inches in front of us. The woman, while bumping and grinding, chatters with Dianne. They talk about which girls are wearing the union button on their panties, what the shift manager said, how the vote might go, who’s an asshole and who isn’t. Basic watercooler stuff except for two magnificent breasts calling me from six inches’ distance and below that, the mesmerizing pelvic thrust.
The crowd of union people are polite and generous. The best tipping audience in the world is an audience of working hands, those few left who make 40 to 50K a year.
Dianne leans over to me, “We don’t get paid extra to keep our tummies tight or our butts tight. That takes a lot of work. They don’t pay for the costumes or the makeup.”
Michele and Nancy still believe this is a waste of resources (it will cost Local 30 more than $28,000 by the time they are through organizing Pacer’s). They accuse Jef, somewhat laughingly, but with a serious undertone, of wanting this property just to have access to the girls. “Our members won’t like this,” says Nancy.
So where did you guys show up?” I’m sitting for lunch at the Primavera Ristoranti, an upscale restaurant on the 900 block of Orange Avenue, six blocks down the street from the Hotel Del Coronado. With me are Jef Eatchel and Jonas Katz.
Jef: “We get to the Hotel Del, we were in the steward’s room — it’s like a banquet room, it seats 80 to 100. Thirty-five, 40 employees are there. Management had their attorney, which is an in-house attorney, Linda Landers, and Jerry Ramsdale, who is the head human resource director, and right underneath him, the director of human resource is Terrie Ozaroski. Landers is being the spokesperson. Jerry and Terrie take notes and help out.”
Oscar, the tuxedoed waiter, brings hot bread. I ask Eatchel, “Who are the people that say ‘Yeah’ or ‘Nay’ on the Del side."
Jef: “They have a board of directors. Everything these three do has to be taken back to the board of directors. But it’s a handpicked board. Let me put it to you this way. If Larry Lawrence wants something through the board, chances are they’re not going to say no.
“Lawrence, for all intents and purposes, runs that hotel by directing a handful of people to direct the rest of it. Lawrence runs that place, there’s no question in anybody’s mind as to whose place that is and how it will operate. No question about it.”
Jonas: “He’s going to be ambassador to Switzerland. I told him the last Democratic president who appointed an ambassador to Switzerland picked a man from Cincinnati, he’s a friend of mine. He’s in jail now, got caught in the S&L switch.” He laughs.
I decide on veal piccatina, ask, “How many members do you have over there?”
Jef: “We have 700, 750 employees. There’s over a thousand employees including management and non-union staff.”
“So, tell me, how do you negotiate?”
Jef: “Normally we meet with the employees prior to negotiations. Money is obviously a top subject, but then we start to talk about holiday pay, vacation pay, sick pay, jury duty pay. Getting the number of shifts that they want, that’s a big issue at the Del right now. Senior employees and junior employees work the same amount of days in a workweek, but if it’s slow some only get three days a week. The senior people say, ‘Bullshit. We’ve given 110 percent to the hotel, we’ve been here for years, and we’ve earned certain rights, we want five days a week.’ And the employer says, ‘Hmm, if it’s busy we’ll let you work, but if it’s not, we’re going to make everyone work less time, so we share in the misery.’
“It’s their theory of divide and conquer where she (attorney Linda Landers) says to me, ‘Oh, you’re not concerned about the new employees?’ ‘Oh yes. I’m concerned about the new employees, but excuse me very much, there’s three of you sitting across the table from us. When it got slow in November, December last year, did you guys work four days a week? I don’t think so. So why should it be any different for my people?’
“Today, we gave her a whole detailed proposal. What we do is take the old contract, any changes that we want in it, we highlight it on the page. Today there were some tentative agreements that were made on certain provisions, and we mark that item on the contract as tentatively agreed to. Most of it was language, the name of the hotel.” He laughs.
Jonas regards his calamari luciana, takes a bite. “Their hotel agreement has always been called the Resort Hotel Agreement. Now, there is no such thing as a Resort Hotel Agreement. She thinks the Del is the only resort hotel in the country. At the end of the contract it says, ‘The parties recognize that the Del Coronado is something very special and it doesn’t lend itself to operations of other hotels and therefore should be considered separate...’ ” Jef: “Bullshit, maids are making rooms, cooks are cooking food, bellman are carrying luggage.”
Jonas: “This hotel isn’t a goddamn bit different than any other hotel. She didn’t like it, but she agreed to it.”
“Where do you start?”
Jef: “We sent them a letter many months ago saying, ‘We’re ready to negotiate, so let’s sit down.’ They sit on one side of the table, we sit on the other, we have our committee members with us. We introduce our committee members to them. They’re their employees, but we introduce them anyway. We have our people stand up, ‘What’s your name, what department do you work in, and how many years have you worked here?’ So the employer sees not only do we have people who have been there 17, 18, 20 years, we have a couple people sitting there, ‘Hi, my name is Joe and I’ve been here for six months.’
“The first meeting, after the introductions, we handed them our proposal and said, ‘Here is a detailed list of every single thing, whether it’s in language or economics, that we want to change.’ We go over it page by page, article by article.”
Jonas: “At the end of the meeting she said to us — and it was a short meeting, took about an hour and a half — she says, ‘Well, you’ve given us a lot to think about and we have to go back and talk to our people, and we’ll see you tomorrow.’ So we get in there the next day, she says, ‘Well, we really haven’t had time to do anything, and in about a half-hour we have to leave.’ So I go, ‘Listen, we’ve got all these people here. I came from Cincinnati, Jef gave up a day, employees are giving up their off-time, you know this is all bullshit.’ She just smiled and left. She had decided what she was going to give us, which was next to nothing — the name, the date of the contract, and some other little shit thing we agreed to.”
I cut on a piece of veal. “So the meeting was, ‘We now agree on the name of the place where everybody works, and it’s under consideration the date of the contract,’ and that’s it?”
Jef: “That’s it, that’s the whole highlight of it.”
Jonas: “Some things she says, like, ‘We appreciate your concern and we expect some sort of movement,’ are hopeful, and there’s other things she won’t do. This contract is about the worst fucking — I travel all over the country doing contracts for this International Union. This is the worst fucking contract I see.”
“What do you hate about it?"
“It’s all little things in there you never see in other contracts, like, ‘We can punish people at our sole discretion, it’s not subject to an arbitrator’s decision,’ that kind of bullshit.”
Jef: “You might be a waiter, and they might want to punish you, they can make you a dishwasher. We refined that the last time, but they used to be able to punish you that way. But there’s other parts in there. They want to discipline and not be subject to a third party. We don’t like anyone to have what we call ‘The Almighty God power,’ where a management decision is ‘God said,’ and that’s all there is to it. We think if management is going to make a decision, a serious decision that affects someone’s life, they should be subject to a third party so we can have an argument with the third party, they can have an argument, and the third party might say, They’re not reasonable.’ Or they might say, ‘That is reasonable.’ But, bottom line, the Del should not have the power of God over anyone. You’re dealing with human beings.”
Jonas: “And little things that wouldn’t mean anything to you or to employees, but little edges they take in the arbitration procedure, like if they discipline an employee and the arbitrator doesn’t think that discipline is right but thinks the employee is wrong, he can’t change the discipline.”
Jef: “Let’s say you went in and you were working and they suspended you for two months. That’s a hard punishment, two months without pay. We take it to an arbitrator, and the arbitrator knows the employee screwed up, but he doesn’t think it’s worth two months, maybe it’s worth two weeks. In their language you can’t do that. It’s either all for the employee or all for management, the arbitrator has no leeway. That’s bullshit.”
I take a sip of coffee. “If you look at this contract from their perspective, what do they want to do, how do they want to play the negotiations out?”
Jef: “They want the most flexibility that they can possibly get. Our strategy is to take as long as it’s going to take to get a good contract. I’ve had negotiations that have lasted an hour. I’ve had one that’s lasted eighteen months, but at the end of 18 months, we got a goddamn good contract.
“We believe it’s more advantageous for the employer to drag it out. In this particular circumstance, at the Hotel Del, what management has seen for the first time, is, instead of 50,60, 70, 80 people involved, we have 300 employees who are real concerned. The whole hotel is talking about it. Leaflets have been passed out to the employees to let them know what we’re asking for in negotiations. The talk is going through the place like crazy. The employer sees that, this makes negotiations go faster. I can feel it. A lot of it has to do with the fact that employees know that other contracts around town are better because there’s a small network of people who work in these hotels and restaurants, and they all talk to each other.”
“How do you think it’s going to go?”
Jonas: “They’re going to take it as far as they can knowing that there’s an inclination, a strong inclination, not to strike, that employees talk tough but when it comes to putting up or shutting up, they don’t walk. They’ll have to judge how strong we are.” Jef: “They’ll try and wait it out, listen to what’s going on in the workplace, see how committed these people are. They’ll get their supervisors to listen in on what’s going on. ‘Are the people pissed? Are they happy? How far are these employees going to push it?’
Jonas: “The big issue is going to be health insurance.”
Jef: “Somewhere between 78 and 83 cents an hour is what we have now. We want to bump it up to $ 1.08 an hour, first year, $1.23 the second year.”
Jonas: “That won’t change the benefits at all, just keeps it even. It could be very costly for them.”
Jef: “Extremely. But again, every employer we haye contracts with pays that rate, and they pay it in places like Shelter Island Marina Inn and Kona Kai and Bristol Court, the smaller hotels. Come on, the Del has the highest rack rate, their rate on rooms is the highest. They do real good on food and beverage. Don’t tell us you can’t afford it when everybody else in town is. We don’t buy it.”
Oscar is back, checks the table, offers more coffee. I ask both men, “How is the hotel business in San Diego?"
Jef: “Recently I drove by the Red Lion in Mission Valley. The same thing hotel people do, we do. Hotels are real easy to survey. We go out at night, about 8:30, 9:00 o’clock, count the lights that are on in the rooms, talk to the employees and find out the occupancy. Pan Pacific is down the toilet. The new Hyatt is doing well ’cause it’s the new guy on the block, but that will only last a short time. To remain competitive now it takes a service-oriented hotel, where people keep coming back. And nobody beats Hotel Del at that.
“The Del started complaining when everybody else was running occupancy in the high 70s, low 80s, and they were in the 90s. Now they’re in the 80s and everybody else is in the 70s, and so they’re bitching. But still, in comparison to the money other hotels are making, we should have a much better contract. I think 'the employees are finally understanding that. It’s not just Jonas and me.”
I look up, Oscar stands smiling. I ask for more rolls and a dessert menu.
Jef: “Have you ever done this? Take this restaurant we’re in right now. We’re coming in here by choice, there’s competition all over. We walk in and our waiter’s pissed off, not in a good mood, ruins our meal. We’re not coming back, for whatever length of time. If the cook in the kitchen is pissed off, even if our waiter is in a good mood, he might slow things down and hurt our service.
“It takes one person to believe he’s not getting his just reward, and that one employee can run off a customer. One of management’s lines at the Hotel Del is, ‘We provide such a beautiful atmosphere for employees here at this legendary Hotel Del.’ The employees, on the other hand, say, ‘We don’t give a shit if we’re working at Motel 6, give me my money so I can pay my rent.’
“So, it’s not so much being a good union member as it is, ‘I’m pissed off, I’m not getting what’s supposed to be coming to me,’ and if you can get to that part, where the employees believe two things: one, that they’re not getting what they’re supposed to; and two, the employer can afford to give it to them but just doesn’t, then that’s where we need to be. It makes negotiations g°”
Jonas has spent 30 years flying around the country assisting in contract negotiations. I turn down dessert and ask, “What’s your assessment of unions today?”
Jonas: “Going to hell. You know why? The big manufacturing base is gone. Steel, a lot of electrical, are gone forever. What we need, which we’re not going to get, is a strong pro-labor Democratic president. Clinton is better than the other guy, but the other guy was a real piece of shit. Who was it, IBM in Cincinnati, or it was Proctor and Gamble? Over the next three years, they’re going to reduce their labor force by 12,000 people. Where in the fuck are those people going? You mean there’s jobs waiting out there for them? Who’s going to retrain them? To do what?”
Jef: “I think unions will get a bigger piece of what’s left. I used to have no organizers. Now I got two full-time organizers and that’s all they do. They don’t handle any problems, they don’t handle any grievances, all they do is organize. When times get tougher, as they are now, people turn to unions."
Jonas: “I don’t know how many elections the union wins, it’s not a big percentage of the elections held. Employer attorneys, I’m not knocking them, that’s their business, their business is to see that negotiations don’t result in a contract. Eventually the union will go away or try to strike. A guy’s got a job, you know; there’s 20 people out there waiting to take his job. It’s tough to walk out on a job.”
I fiddle with my fork. “In terms of the Del, what will it take for you to walk away from this and say, ‘Well, we’ve moved the ball forward’?”
Jef: “You sit down with management and say, ‘Here’s a list of 20 items we need to get that are most important to the majority of the people who work at this place.’ Let’s say it’s the top five that our people have to have. If we get those top five, then we throw it to the employee’s committee — that’s why we want a committee — and say, ‘Look, is this acceptable enough for you guys to go back to the rest of the people who work here and present it as something positive?’ Sometimes when you get into negotiations where they have to have eight items and you get six, they’ll sit there and say no. I’ve had negotiations where out of the top three, they’ll get one and that’s enough. Anyway, we take it to the committee, and if the committee thinks it’s enough, then we take it to a membership meeting and let them vote on it. If they say it’s acceptable, fine."
Jonas: “We know what we need. By the time this negotiation is over, we might get something like a nickel or dime an hour because health costs are constantly moving upwards.”
Jef: “I’ll give you an example of how business has changed. Mattel Toy Company used to come to La Costa, and they’d preview all their new toys. I worked there then, and I was in charge of setting up their sandwiches and stuff, so we’d always go in and check out the new toys.
“Mattel used to come in and bring 500 people. One week. And then they’d bring another 500 the next week. And all these people would have unlimited use of the golf course, they’d have all these little social activities, and they’d bus them here and bus them there, and they all got to bring their wives, have a great time.
“Now, Mattel Toy Company comes in, they bring in 250 people, and they check in Monday, and they go through their classes, and it’s an all-day thing Monday. They get hungry, they’re on their own. ‘You want to go eat, go ahead, eat.’ They’ll have a little something for you in the daytime, but at dinner you’re on your own. They’re there Tuesday and Wednesday and blow out on Thursday. And then the following week they do the same thing.
“Look at people who travel for vacations now. I always thought a vacation was nine days, you have the weekends and five days off, you take nine days to go on vacation. Now, the average stay in a hotel is cut by a quarter. How often, when you were younger, did you go on vacation with your parents where they stopped at the grocery store and bought food to bring into the hotel room? Never. Now, they go out and buy snacks. We got more stuff going inside the room, they got their own little diners in there.” Jonas: “They bring their own booze.”
Jef: “They bring their own booze in, see that a lot. We have problems in some of our places where people smuggle booze into the bar. They’ll order a drink from the waitress, and they’ll just
keep hitting the brown bag all night. We’re finding that everybody is trim-lining. And when they trim-line, that affects the employees.” I shake off another cup of coffee. “That must make negotiations more difficult.”
Jef: “This time around with the Del, it’s going to be interesting. I’ve never seen the employees so concerned.”
Jonas: “It’s almost refreshing. They’re concerned. Part of it’s money, part of it is the work. They’re angry. The first thing the employees did was sign a petition saying they were unhappy about the contract last time. That got our attention. We didn’t ask them to do this. It was perfect: a petition signed by hundreds of employees saying they don’t want their contract to go into effect until it is ratified by them. We tried that the last time, but the employees didn’t give the leadership.”
Jef: “Nobody showed up for the ratification part.”
Jonas: “Yeah. You know what we did to the petition this time?”
Jef: “We gave it to management, ‘You want to see what’s going on, here you go.’ ”
Jonas: “Last negotiations, we didn’t sense a real interest by the Hispanics.”
Jef: “A real commitment.”
Jonas: “But this time they’re in the trench. They are angry, they think that they’ve been taken advantage of — maybe by us, maybe by the hotel, somebody is screwing them — and they want to get even.”
Local 30 won the second union election at Pacer’s 52 to 28. Jef Eatchel and Michele Keith are currently in negotiations with Pacer’s owner. Hotel Del negotiations ended with Local 30 winning four weeks’ paid vacation for longterm employees and additional employer health-care contributions, which brought the Del up to industry-wide standards. Eatchel also won increased distribution of tips for banquet employees, paid funeral leave, and, for the first time, all housekeeping personnel will receive a free meal per shift, plus a modest hourly increase for all employees. The bowling alley contract is in final draft. Nancy Browning is pregnant. Jose Ayala is organizing the new Hyatt downtown. Jef Eatchel is just back from nine days in Washington, D.C., meeting with national labor leaders on health care. Al Abarca is working on the 32nd Street mess hall contract (Navy). Michele Keith is the new agent for Pacer’s.