Big win at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco

Arbitration win gives Local 856 members a complete victory

From left to right: Erica Goldblatt (shop steward and concierge), Chelsey Yu (front desk agent), Laurie Louie (concierge supervisor)

Teamsters 856 member, Chelsey Yu is a front desk agent at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. Last year, she gave birth to her daughter and began her maternity leave. A few months later, she received a letter from the Clift stating that she had exhausted her protected leave and her health and welfare benefits would no longer be covered.

Based on a clear and established past practice and the Clift Hotel contract language, Chelsey knew should have been able to use her sick leave and vacation hours to meet the minimum 80 hours she needed each month to qualify for her collectively bargained health benefits. However, this time the Clift told Chelsey that would not be an option.

“I immediately contacted my Local 856 representative, Mike Lagomarsino and Crystal Thompson (the Teamsters 856 Health and Welfare Coordinator),” said Chelsey. “They told me my vacation and sick time were my hours and I could use them, but the company said no.”

The situation began to worry Chelsey and her husband. “We needed health care — we had a newborn,” she said. “We paid for COBRA health insurance (an option for individuals who have lost their employer-provided health coverage) for three months to be sure our baby was covered.”

The situation began to have a broader impact when the Clift told all Teamsters 856 members that despite past practices and what their contract says, their sick and vacation hours could no longer be used to count toward their health care eligibility.

Erica Goldblatt has been a concierge at the Clift Hotel for 12 years and a shop steward for about a year and a half. She said when she first heard from Chelsey that the hotel was refusing to allow her to use her sick and vacation hours to meet the hours necessary for her health and welfare, she was shocked and thought it was a mistake.

“Once we understood the hotel’s position, it quickly became clear to me that the ramifications for all members could be dire,” she said. “We felt that the Clift Hotel’s new owners were testing the union to see how far they could push.

It is common for hotels to be frequently sold or change management companies. In this case,

the new owners attempted to reinterpret the long-established health and welfare sections in the current contract in a way that that would have denied members their collectively bargained health and welfare benefits.

Laurie Louie, a concierge supervisor for the hotel, experienced the impact of these attempted changes firsthand.

“Even though I was sick, I was afraid to take any sick time before I went on vacation,” she explained. “If I called out sick, I wouldn’t have had enough hours worked to qualify for health insurance and since I couldn’t use my vacation and sick hours toward hours worked then I would have lost my health insurance. I can’t not have health insurance.”

Members fought back and their representative, Mike Lagomarsino filed a grievance.

“Even though the initial issue was about Chelsey, it could have impacted all of the Teamster hotels in the city that have a similar contract,” explained Mike who is also president of Local 856. “Members at the Clift fought to make sure their contract was properly enforced and won not only for themselves but to prevent other hotels from interpreting the language in their contract in the same incorrect way.”

Committed to the end, Mike and the Local 856 members at the Clift Hotel worked in partnership and fought together all the way to the highest level of the grievance procedure where an independent arbitrator sided with Teamsters 856. The arbitrator ordered the hotel to pay Chelsey over $8,000 to reimburse her COBRA expenses and decided that the contract, along with established past practices, made it clear that members’ vacation and sick leave hours can be applied towards healthcare eligibility.

Erica said the issue united her co-workers as a team. They were able to bond on an issue that impacted them all and everyone got involved in the fight. Many members even testified during arbitration.

“We pushed back with all of our might,” said Erica. “The fight and win were an incredible morale boost. We’re a small desk and this was a big issue. We learned that we are stronger together and we can rely on each other.”