In mid-December of last year, Woodfin Suites fired twenty-one housekeepers at its Emeryville hotel for having invalid Social Security numbers. In response, the hotel workers and the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) filed two complaints with the City of Emeryville against Woodfin Suites. The first claimed that housekeepers were not being paid the living wage assured by the city’s Measure C, which voters passed in a 2005 resolution. The second alleged that the hotel company fired housekeepers in retaliation for the workers’ insistence on the enforcement of Measure C.
However, two weeks ago, EBASE quietly withdrew the retaliation complaint from the City Attorney’s office, though it remains pending with Alameda County Superior Court. The hotel is incensed at EBASE’s actions in filing what they consider to be false claims and for protesting outside their property. Woodfin spokesperson Eric Schellhorn claims EBASE “withdrew the complaints because they are baseless and unfounded. They have publicly humiliated us, and they don’t even have the decency to go out into the world they have been shouting at and come forth publicly.”
Sarah Norr, Living Wage Organizer for EBASE, says that the withdrawal was a matter of practicality, and that the complaint withdrawal is not a sign of backing down. “It’s very hard to prove a retaliation claim without the opportunity to cross-examine a testimonial. The city procedure does not provide this opportunity, so we are pursuing it in the Superior Court,” says Norr, adding that the city procedure did not have access to the payroll or workload records of the housekeepers.
A June 8 letter from City Attorney Michael Biddle to Woodfin General Manager Hugh MacIntosh shows that Woodfin did not submit the proper Measure C documents (“housekeeping room assignments and time sheets” for 2006) until the previous day, one month later than required by the city. Schellhorn claims that documents detailing payroll and workload were made available to the city long ago, alleging that Biddle is “in cahoots with EBASE” and purposely delayed telling Woodfin about the complaint withdrawal for one full week.
Norr expects that the city will return its finding in the wage dispute “any time now,” though she is uncertain when the Alameda County Superior Court will be able to decide the retaliation case. Meanwhile, Woodfin is suing Emeryville over the constitutionality of Measure C, and is demanding a public apology from EBASE for the damages caused to their business and reputation.