As an event floral designer, I have become very familiar with event venues and hotels. I see work cultures where employees and vendors are treated with respect and those where the opposite is true.
I recently attended a Sonoma Hospitality Association event where the topic was attracting and keeping employees. Much discussion was about how just being a good employer would ensure that employees stayed. Ideas such as, reaching out and taking applications, even if you have no openings and recruiting in geographic areas far from where the business is located were discussed.
The idea is to have a larger pool to choose from. I asked a question about union representation ensuring employee retention and satisfaction. As I listened, I thought, how depressing it would be to apply for a job that did not exist, how hours-long commuting would destroy your quality of life, and what safeguards does an employee really have without a union.
Some 26 years ago I decided to start my own business and no longer work for anyone else. I had spent 18 years in electronic banking, working for banks, startups, and data processors. My last job was at the credit card monster, Visa.
This was not my intended career path. I graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 1979, with the dream of becoming a Hollywood costume designer. Well, that did not work out so well, thus the bank teller job that launched me in corporate life. In the corporate world you may have a good salary and healthcare benefits, but at will employees can be let go at any time.
Back in art school I was lucky to have a union supermarket job. In the 1970s I earned $10 an hour, time and a half on Sundays, and triple time every third Sunday. I actually made more money than my father.
The store was owned by two brothers, one normal, the other crazy. Mr. Crazy would snort cocaine and blast punk rock. During temper tantrums, he fired people for no reason. But, unlike in the corporate world, our union rep would always escort us back to the store and we would be back to work.
At the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, the National Labor Relations Board found evidence of 43 labor law violations, including evidence that hotel management had threatened workers for engaging in union activity, illegally interrogated employees about their union activities, and illegally promised benefits to workers if they rejected the union.
Workers at the Sonoma Mission Inn have come to realize simply relying on the good will of employers as touted by the Hospitality Association will not get them fair compensation, benefits, safe working conditions, and respect.
While the Sonoma Valley and Oakmont Democrats have written letters to management requesting they remain neutral and cease their union busting, our local elected officials have not stepped up to support these workers. It’s time they speak out, like an Oakland city councilmember did recently supporting the screenwriters’ strike.
Better wages, benefits, and job security for workers along with creating real affordable housing should be local government’s first priority.