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Carmel Hotel Workers March on La Playa and Pine Inn for Justice
At least 100 hotel workers, community members, and friends gathered in the center of Carmel on June 7 for the "Carmel Hotel Workers Rising March" which was organized by Unite Here! Local 483, and focused on La Playa Hotel and the Pine Inn. Community members are protesting the Pine Inn's elimination of all dependents (42 people) from medical insurance coverage, as well as La Playa Hotel's refusal to commit to re-hire workers who lost their jobs when the hotel recently changed ownership. Representatives of Unite Here! Local 483, which is a labor union that supports hotel workers in Monterey and Santa Cruz, has declared that Carmel is, "the center of labor conflict in the Monterey Bay hotel industry today." [scroll down for photos and videos]
The demonstration began at La Playa Hotel, which is currently being remodeled, and is located in an area of Carmel near the bay that is mixed residential/commercial. Community members and former employees of the hotel hoped to march into the lobby as a group to speak with the general manager and deliver petitions with the signatures of over 1000 Monterey County residents requesting the owner rehire the workers. Monterey County Supervisor Jane Parker and others wanted to speak inside, but the doors of La Playa were locked and knocking received no attention from the staff. The group then marched around the hotel, shaking noisemakers, chanting loudly, and looking for other ways to enter the building. After returning to the from, marchers circled the lobby entrance for some time. They then made their way over to the Pine Inn, which is located on Ocean Avenue, Carmel's main shopping street.
A similar demonstration was held at the Pine Inn; marchers circled the building and marched up and down Ocean Avenue. Upon returning to La Playa, a short rally was held where a former employee of the hotel spoke, as well as Unite Here! Local 438 representatives.
Carmel by the Sea, as it is popularly known, is a luxury vacation community and tourist destination that is characterized by ritzy shopping, an abundance of decorative art galleries, and high end boutique hotels. Easy to forget when visiting is the community of people who work extremely hard to support the tourist destination.
After La Playa changed ownership, the hotel was closed in November of 2011, a $4 million dollar remodeling project was started, and 122 of those who worked at the hotel lost their jobs. Many had worked there for decades, some for over 30 years. La Playa, now owned by Classic Hotels & Resorts (a subsidiary of Phoenix-based Grossman Company Properties) is set to re-open this summer and is in the process of hiring people, but those who are now re-applying for jobs at the hotel are finding the process very difficult. The new hotel management has eliminated a number of positions, and in many cases long term employees are having to apply for "new" jobs. Unite Here! Local 483 had tried to attach a condition to the sale of La Playa Hotel that the workers be retained, but the union was not successful. Unite Here is still attempting to obtain first right of refusal for former employees applying. The hotel, however, is still not cooperating.
At the Pine Inn, the struggle is over health care insurance. On April 1st of this year the management implemented a new plan that eliminates family health care. The Carmel hotel is owned by Richard Gunner of Fresno. After making many wage concessions with the hotel to maintain their health care, Pine Inn workers and union representatives see this as a new business model that is preys on workers who have acted in good faith over years of negotiations.
A housekeeper who has been working at the Pine Inn for 14 years, and in the local hotel industry for 27 years, described how the change in the Pine Inn's insurance plan would affect her:
"Having health insurance for my family is really important to me. A few months ago my husband suffered a heart attack. He underwent surgery and was hospitalized for several days. Now he is unable to work and relies on expensive prescriptions. The prescriptions are covered under my union insurance plan, but will cost up to $400 a month if Mr. Gunner takes that away. It will be impossible for me to continue paying for them in that case. I am the only breadwinner in my family, even with two jobs it is incredibly difficult."
"I also have a 28 year old son who suffers from schizophrenia. He has been in rehabilitation centers and hospitals for the past four years. Because I can't cover him under my medical plan, I have spent at times up to $960 per month for his programs. His medications cost several hundred dollars each, and without them he can't live a normal life. Taking care of my son's illness has only been manageable because I had union insurance to cover my husband and granddaughter (whom we have custody of)."
"Under Mr. Gunner's insurance plan if I wanted to cover my husband and granddaughter it would cost $900 a month. That's not taking into account the high deductible ($1500) and co-pays. Every pay check I'm struggling as it is. I can't even buy meat to cook for my family. We try to conserve milk. I can't buy clothes or shoes or anything for the kids. I struggle to provide the basics."
"I came to this country from Sinaloa, Mexico. I left my hometown to find a better life, because that's what a proud mother does for her kids. I've raised 4 (now grown) children, and worked hard to provided for my family. I'm not asking Mr. Gunner for a lot, just to keep what I have. After 14 years helping him earn the living to take care of his family, I'd like to have the basics to take care of mine."
"Do the right thing, Mr. Gunner!"
There are more protests planned. "It's looking like a hot summer with a lot of street heat in Carmel this year, until the Pine Inn and La Playa owners do the right thing by the workers," said Unite Here! Local 483 Vice-President Hector Azpilcueta.
The next protest on Ocean Avenue in Carmel is planned for 5-6pm on Wednesday, June 20, and has been dubbed the "Summer Solstice Street Heat Rally".
For more information about Unite Here! Local 483, see:
Police car waiting for the march.
Before the demonstration.
Part 2 (videos)
March on La Playa and Pine Inn for Justice (Part 2: Videos)