Ben Boyce


Sonoma Valley shows up for Fairmont workers

Posted on November 14, 2023 by Ben Boyce

This past Friday, November 10th, the workers and community supporters of the hotel workers seeking to join UNITE HERE Local 2 held a lively rally outside the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. 

We marched in union picket formation for about an hour, making a long circle on the sidewalk off Highway 12 a few hundreds yards long that just kept rolling like a circular fan, with march captains with bullhorns. The Local 2 folks know how to do the march and rally drill. Half the chants were in Spanish, so I learned how to belt out “Estamos en la Lucha!” along with the majority Latino crowd. 

It felt kind of festive. I experienced the catharsis that chanting slogans out loud with a few hundred committed unionists can bring. After getting a workout marching and yelling for an hour, we went around the corner, across from the post office and heard a series of speakers.

The program started strong, with Fr. Jim Fredericks. Father Jim is an auxiliary priest, i.e. a retired Jesuit theology professor who lives at his family home in Sonoma. Catholic priests actually never really get to retire, because you are expected to fill-in when the local priest is ill or on vacation. It is also mandatory for any Catholic priest to speak both English and Spanish in California, so he delivered the address first in fluent conversational Spanish, then in potent English. He bridged the cultural divide in his own  presence.

He was followed by my state representative Damon Connolly, D-CA 12 who I had supported editorially and on the ground every weekend for two months in 2022. I had a chance to shake his hand and tell him “That you are here makes me feel like my investment paid off”, evoking his laughter.

My colleagues Marty Bennett (Living Wage Coalition) emeritus professor of history and life-long labor activist and Michael Allen (Accountable Development Coalition) former long-time president of the North Bay Labor Council, and current NBLC president Tony Worthington were there, hanging with Damon. Sonoma Councilman Jack Ding showed up. A young teacher, president of her local teachers union, spoke movingly of their shared condition as working class union members.

It was a powerful event that really was a way for Anglo community members to stand in solidarity with the largely Latino workforce. For all the white liberals who have read Ibrahim X Kendi or Robin DeAngelo, and feel like they need to expiate their second hand racial sins by performing acts of solidarity, this is a great place to do that and actually make a difference, instead of making everyone uncomfortable.

There’s nothing quite like marching on the street in full view of cops and cameras in support of precarious workers of another race or ethnicity to show that you’re on their side. You can buy some real cred with sustained solidarity.

Putting my pundit cap on, I can see why this campaign is an uphill battle. Accountability is the root of the problem. The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is owned by Brookfield Asset Management and operated by Accor. 

Brookfield Asset Management is a nearly trillion dollar financial behemoth, similar to Black Rock and Blackstone Inc. 

The national suite of high-end hotels, which includes the Fairmont, is just one of hundreds of properties owned by Brookfield. For all practical purposes, there’s no there there. 

The entity ‘The Fairmont Hotel’ is just another layer of financial engineering designed to obscure ownership, tax status and legal liability. The management group, Accor, will likely just be replaced by Brookfield if they fail in their mission to keep the union out. 

So, those are the stakes for Accor and their senior executives, which would explain the extraordinary lengths that they have gone to to disrupt the union drive. We can’t bankrupt Brookfield but we might be able to fire Accor’s C suite. Just sign the contract and carry on. Everyone makes money.


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