From the August 1995 issue of LABORNOTES   

		--Nathan Newman

     In the political shadow of Proposition 187, the mostly
immigrant workers of the luxury Lafayette Park Hotel have mounted
an organizing drive that has become a rallying point in Northern
California for those fighting rising racism and immigrant-
bashing. Located in the wealthy inland suburb of Lafayette in
Contra Costa County where no new hotel union shops have been
organized for decades, the fight at the Lafayette Park promises a
new era of activism for the burgeoning low-wage immigrant
workforce of the suburbs.

     "Along with the ongoing struggle at the Holiday Inn--Walnut
Creek," explains Jim Dupont, Secretary-Treasurer of HERE Local
2850 which is helping the 100+ Lafayette workers, "organizing the
Lafayette Park would mean the beginning of a drive to organize
the mostly immigrant workforce of the hotels in the suburbs of
Northern California.  But the hotel management is mounting a
nasty campaign to bust the union before it even is formed."

     When the two main employee organizers inside the hotel, both
Latina immigrants, were fired for their public organizing among
their co-workers, it highlighted the day-to-day abuse, illegal
treatment and low wages immigrant workers face.  Throughout the
organizing drive, immigrant employees and people of color have
faced harsh retaliation while more favored white workers have
been wooed by management with favoritism and promotions over non-
white colleagues.

     As in politics, race and immigrant status have become wedge
issues to divide the populace. "In the atmosphere created by 187
and by Pete Wilson," explains 2850 community organizer Stephanie
Ruby,  "managers at places like Lafayette Park are even more at
ease going after immigrant workers because of this green light
from the top. Immigrant workers are very susceptible to those
threats such as a manager saying casually, Maybe the INS will
come in and shut the work force down. Regardless of their
immigration status, they know that they will come after the brown
people, after the people who have come here from Mexico and
Central America.  The workers know exactly what it means when a
supervisor makes such not-so-subtle threats."

     But Ruby also notes that this same attack on immigrant
workers has galvanized community support.  When the union kicked-
off its campaign with an April 1st march in downtown Lafayette,
over 200 community supporters made the trek to Lafayette Park to
show their solidarity. A whole array of organizations have
endorsed the struggle against the Lafayette Park management, the
Western Lodging Group, including the Mexican-American Political
Association, the state assemblyman from the district Bob
Campbell, the Contra Costa Democratic Party Central Committee,
the National Chicano Human Rights Council, the Committees of
Correspondence, and an array of anti-187 organizations.
Representatives from all these groups have joined the workers on
weekly picket lines and in boycott delegations to clients of the

     Ruby notes that another base of support tied to the
immigrant rights issue has been the Internet: "We were able to
mobilize letters of support and letters of protest over firings
within 24 hours.  Hundreds of organizations responded, from
unions to children's organizations to human rights groups from as
far away as Canada that pledged their support.   The minute they
heard immigrant workers were under attack and it was in the
context of what's happening in California, they responded

     One of the most exciting aspects of the fight has been the
way the immigrant rights issue has mobilized an overwhelming
number of college-age and high school students on the picket line
where they  often make up a majority of picketers.  A UC-Berkeley
organization called Students Organized for Justice in the
Americas (SOJA) has officially become part of the solidarity
committee and members are educating fellow students about the
struggle at the Lafayette Hotel.  Where SOJA was once focused on
Central America issues, organizer Ruby notes "It's exciting to
see these young people, undergrads, making these connections.
It's seeing that these human rights issues are happening right
here in our own backyards.  It's moving politics from the 1980s
into the 1990s."

     Even more dramatic have been the large number of Latino high
school students joining the picket line, primarily through a new
organization called the Student Empowerment Project (StEP), which
led high school walkouts throughout Northern California in
protest during the Prop 187 campaign. Union leaders explain their
support partly because the Lafayette workers face conditions much
like the high schoolers' parents, but another key reason is the
ongoing support the union has given to StEP. HERE 2850 staff
director Gabriel Hernandez has been acting as a mentor to StEP
and the union has providing both meeting space and resources to
support the student organizing. "We've been supporting the young
people with resources and now we're seeing a payback.  We've got
their back and they have ours."   Hernandez notes that "a lot of
unions talk about building community ties, but it comes down to
how you start spending money and how you work with the community
to create that unity. The students started with social justice
and now see economic justice.  And unions sometimes are short-
sighted and  act on one area without the other area.  They only
look at the economic justice issues and not the social justice
issues--which are sometimes different."

     Hernandez argues that it is the responsibility of the union
to give those without representation a voice and no one needs
that voice more than immigrants who are denied a vote and are
under harassment from every direction. Creating that voice, he
explains, is the commitment of the staff.  But it can't stop
there in his view. "We have to get our members who have a union
to also accept that responsibility.  And that is a struggle.
There's the reality that many union members supported Prop 187,
so it shows the shortcomings of educating our own members about
those kinds of struggle."  The union has launched an internal
education drive among its members, including videos about labor
and racism, to promote discussion on how to organize in the
increasingly diverse workplaces of the 1990s.


     When the first firings of union activists occurred in early
February, the union was able to use the base of community support
to send immediate delegations to protest conditions in the hotel:
the illegal firings, suspensions of union activists, harassment
of pro-union workers, mandatory meetings to deliver the anti-
union message along with one-on-one meetings to intimidate
workers, restrictions on breaks for workers since the union drive
began, changes in parking policy to prevent contact with union
organizers. the imposition of a "no talking" policy after the
organizing drive began, massive increases in management
surveillance during work hours, and discrimination against union
activists and favoritism towards workers who are known to have
not joined the union.  "It's exactly because of treatment like
this that we want representation," says Socorro Zapien, one of
the two main employee leaders fired by the Lafayette Hotel.

     The April 1st march, the largest in anyone's memory in the
tiny town of Lafayette, kicked off a mass boycott of the
Lafayette Park and its parent management company, the non-union
Western Lodging Group which manages six hotels in Northern
California.  Through community delegations to corporate offices,
the union has gotten a number of key corporate businesses to pull
their business from the Lafayette, including AT&T, Kaiser
Permanente, and the database company Sybase.  Business has fallen
sharply under the impact of the boycott and the weekly picket
lines in a campaign that Ruby describes as constant escalation.

     To further increase the pressure, community members have
picketed Western Lodging Group's Stanford Park, the most
profitable hotel in the chain.  The first contact with the
Stanford community was at a meeting of the Chicano student group
MEChA. The MEChA students immediately made the connection and saw
how 187 has effected what's happening at this hotel.  With other
students and staff unions at Stanford, they not only picketed the
hotel but pressured Stanford Law School to withdraw business as

     Over the July 4th weekend, the union took a car caravan from
hotel to hotel within the six-hotel Western Lodging Group on a
flying picket squad, ending up on July 3rd at the Monterey Plaza
where the workers there publicly launched their drive for union
recognition. In Monterey, there are discussions starting between
the United Farm Workers and the HERE local at Monterey for joint
actions and support in the Salinas-Monterey area.

     While organizers expect a long fight, they are confident
that the workers at Lafayette, Monterey and the rest of the
Western Lodging Group's properties will prevail.  With the
attacks on immigrants mounting, the union has helped bring
together the force of community members with the hotel employees

in a campaign that is only escalating by the day.