Woodfin and Workers Settle



The East Bay’s most contentious labor dispute in recent years has finally come to an end. Housecleaners at Emeryville’s Woodfin Suites Hotel have argued for four years that they were underpaid under the city’s Measure C, a living-wage law for hospitality workers. But after an order by the city, a ruling by an Alameda County Superior judge, and a three-year boycott could not compel the hotel to ante up $200,000 in back pay to more than fifty employees, they have finally agreed to hand over the cash.

Some of it, at least.

The City of Emeryville, EBASE, Unite Here, and Woodfin announced on Thursday a settlement that ends the boycott and disburses a majority of the disputed wages to current and former employees.

The dispute began in 2006, when housecleaners charged that the hotel was not in compliance with Measure C, passed by Emeryville voters in 2005. The city investigated the matter and found that Woodfin owed about $200,000 to 53 employees for work carried out in 2006. Last December, an Alameda County judge again ordered Woodfin to pay up.

The hotel has contended all along that the problem is not with how it pays its workers, but with the way Measure C was written, which does not account for the hotel’s “team approach” to room cleaning.

“We think Measure C will eventually be preempted by federal labor law,” the hotel’s Tim Rosales told the Express. “But that wasn’t something we wanted to wait for.” Nor did they intend to wait for a long appeals process of the judge’s ruling, he said.

Under the settlement, the hotel will pay $125,000 in back pay, under the calculations determined by Emeryville. Despite the large gap between that and the $200,000 Woodfin was long ago ordered to pay, Brooke Anderson of EBASE says depending on the amount of workers who file claims, those who do will at least receive the majority of what they believe the hotel owes them, and possibly close to 100 percent. That was good enough for them.

Over four years, the convoluted disputes also involved ICE (see "Whose Side Is Ice On"), the eviction of a long-term tenant (see "Story Subject Served With Eviction Notion From Woodfin"), and several unsuccessful court challenges to Measure C.