Berkeley restaurant employees protest over health insurance costs

Andrea Seet/Staff

At a demonstration over contract negotiations Saturday evening, about 40 protesters outside Berkeley’s HS Lordships restaurant demanded provisions for making health insurance more affordable.

Represented by Unite Here Local 2850 — a union for hotel, food-service and gaming industry workers — employees marched in front of the restaurant for more than an hour, as business continued inside. According to Ty Hudson, a spokesperson for the union, the company that owns HS Lordships agreed to pay a significant portion of employees’ health insurance as part of a union agreement — but because the contract expired a few years ago, the company’s portion has not kept up with rising health costs.

“The workers have had to absorb more and more (health care costs),” Hudson said. “It’s gotten much more expensive.”

HS Lordships, located in the Berkeley Marina area, is owned by Specialty Restaurants Corporation, which owns several restaurants throughout the United States. Representatives from the restaurant or corporation could not be reached immediately for comment over the weekend.

According to Hudson, the company and union have “been trying to get this done at the negotiating table” but have been unable to reach an agreement. Saturday’s protest was the second on this issue, after a demonstration that occurred in December.

“Many go without health insurance,” said Maria Elena Allain, a protester at the event. “It’s no way to live.”

The employees who protested Saturday were not on strike, as they had either worked earlier in the day or had the day off. One protester, HS Lordships employee Rocio Ibarra, alleged that she was suspended for her participation in the first demonstration and has filed a formal complaint, Hudson said.

According to Hudson, the union is also concerned about the possibility that its employer may eliminate tipping and instead impose a service fee — the revenue from which may not be legally obligated to go to service workers.

 

At a meeting last week, Berkeley City Council voted to refer the city manager to draft an amendment of Berkeley’s living-wage ordinance that would require proceeds from service fees to go in their entirety to the employees performing those services.

During the protest, much of the restaurant was occupied by a Cal Baseball Foundation fundraising event for UC Berkeley’s baseball team. Jesse Kay, a junior on campus and a baseball team player, said that although it might be “bad timing” for the demonstration to fall on the day of the fundraiser, he didn’t know enough to take a stance on the protest — but he respected the employees’ right to do so.

“They’re just expressing themselves,” Kay said. “They’re saying what they need to say.”

Hudson said protests will continue if the union’s requests are not met.

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.