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OC hotels stop labor organizing by asking employees one question: Are you here legally?

Photo by Jack GouldThe Crowne Plaza Resort can certainly kill a union. On April 2, management at the Garden Grove hotel sent a letter to dozens of workers, including many who were involved in a two-year effort to organize its employees. Aimed at identifying and firing undocumented workers, the letter read, "We have been notified by the Social Security Administration Offices that either your name and/or Social Security number that you have provided to the hotel does not agree with their records. Failure to furnish us the appropriate documentation may result in termination of your employment."

At the Crowne Plaza, the letter ended the campaign to organize the hotel's lowest-paid workers. But the hotel says that was an unintended consequence.

"This isn't something the company did [on its own], but something we were required to do," said Dianne Anderson, the Crowne Plaza's human resources director. "We were told to check certain employee records by the Social Security Administration. I think it happens at this time of year because it's tax season and all our employee tax forms have been sent out."

But Jaime Torres, a field organizer with Local 681 of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees (HERE) union in Anaheim, believes the letter was part of a deliberate plan to derail the unionizing effort. He notes that Crowne Plaza workers received their warning letter just days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 27 that illegal immigrants fired during union campaigns have no right to sue the company.

Torres believes the ruling will only encourage more firings at Orange County hotels. "If a company knows the union is organizing a hotel, they will only have to say to the workers, 'Please give us your Social Security numbers,'" he said.

"I don't think we can do anything about it," Torres continued. "I talked to Hermandad [Mexicana Nacional] and every labor organization in the county, but the hotels need to request the Social Security numbers and are using this necessity to exploit their workers. They hire them for a year, which is when they would have to give them a raise. Then they ask them for their documents, fire anyone who doesn't have them, and hire new workers at a lower wage."

The Supreme Court's decision only makes legal a tactic other hotels have already employed. When Anaheim Marriott Hotel informed 100 workers on Feb. 28 that they would lose their jobs if they failed to produce Social Security numbers, Torres says, dozens of workers involved in the union campaign were fired. Still more dismissals are on the way, even though the union says it has ceased organizing the workers.

"We're talking to some workers at some of the hotels, but we have no active plans to organize," Torres concluded. "We have two full-time organizers, including myself, but we have no active campaign."

 
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