Last Thursday, roughly 250 workers and their supporters gathered in front of the tony Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, lighting white candles as the sun fell.
Attendees gathered to condemn the hotel’s efforts to discourage workers from joining Unite Here Local 2, which represents 15,000 hospitality workers in Sonoma County and throughout the Bay Area.
Last May, Toronto-based investment giant Brookfield Asset Management purchased the 226-room Mission Inn as part of a $3.8-billion purchase of 25 hotels across 14 states. On the weekend of Feb. 18, rooms at the luxury hotel cost $560 per night and up.
In a press release, Unite Here claims that Fairmont and its consultants “have engaged in threats, intimidation, and coercion” to fight the union effort.
In November, the hotel hired Quest Consulting, a Las Vegas-based union avoidance consulting company. Federal filings don’t show how much the company has paid Quest and other subcontractors so far.
Union discouragement efforts are quite common, with companies nationwide paying consultants roughly $340 million per year to avoid union votes, according to a 2019 Economic Policy Institute report. In 2021, Sonoma County-based frozen food manufacturer Amy’s Kitchen, which Teamsters Local 665 is attempting to organize, hired Quest and other consultants, according to federal filings.
Unite Here claims Fairmont’s anti-union efforts were too aggressive, violating the workers’ right to decide whether or not to join a union. In January, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the hotel threatened and surveilled employees involved in the union effort. The NLRB has not ruled on the case.
Regarding the hotel’s “union busters,” Erik Baumgartner, a driver and valet at the hotel, said: “I want the hotel to know that we’re not afraid. They shouldn’t try to mislead us or confuse us, because it’s not going to work. My coworkers and I are going to make the best decision for ourselves—and that’s the union.”
In an emailed response to questions, Michelle Heston, a Fairmont spokesperson, stated, “Our team members are the most important asset we have, and we are proud of the positive, open and trusting relationship we have with them. Our top priority is to create a superior employee experience that enables, motivates and inspires our team to deliver the best possible guest experience. We value the contribution our employees make daily to the hotel and the community in which we operate.”
Heston did not address direct questions about Unite Here’s NLRB complaint or why the hotel hired Quest Consulting.