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California Club workers agree to contract after one-day strike [Updated]

January 4, 2012 | 12:35 pm

California Club on Flower Street
Workers at the exclusive California Club in downtown Los Angeles who walked off the job to protest a proposed wage freeze in December announced they won a contract with modest increases in pay and benefits.

About 150 workers at the private business club waged a one-day strike Dec. 15 in protest of a proposed six-month wage freeze.

Leigh Shelton, a spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 11, said workers agreed to a wage freeze in 2009 and to higher healthcare contributions in 2010 because the club's management said the business was struggling.

But the employees balked at the proposal for another wage freeze after the club spent a substantial amount of money on renovations last year.

The contract, which was ratified and signed just before the new year, provides a $1.15 increase in hourly wages over three years, as well as higher health and pension contributions by the club.

Shelton said the increases will put the California Club workers on par with employees at the nearby Jonathan Club, another elite private club, and with downtown hotels.

Rene Espinosa, an on-call waiter at the California Club making $18.85 an hour (the club does not allow tips), said the walkout in December was the first during his 12-year tenure there.

He said he believed the club was having difficulty in the down economy but he said workers should not be punished for it.

“I don’t think that’s the way to treat us, especially when they say we’re like family,” he said.

Espinosa said the workers were pleased with the new contract and that he was particularly happy about the health benefit increases.

[Updated at 3:48 p.m.: Cliff Miller, a California Club member and spokesman, said the club management is pleased that the negotiations were successful and the club's operations and staff back to normal.

He added, "Inside the California Club, you never would have known there was a problem" except on the day of the strike].

The California Club, founded in 1887, was long a center for Los Angeles' old-school power brokers. It drew controversy in the 1980s over its membership policies, which excluded women and minorities until then.

In more recent years, it has struggled financially. In 2009, the latest year for which financial statements were available, the club had a $1.4-million net loss.

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: Archived shot of California Club. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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