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Ex-workers still waiting on hotel's $400,000 payout for largest wage theft in Oakland's history

Shomik Mukherjee, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

The hotel that owes the largest wage theft payout in Oakland, California’s history still hasn’t paid a dollar to 128 ex-workers, according to union representatives who are pressuring the city to take legal action.

Workers at the Radisson Hotel near the city’s airport were owed $20 an hour instead of the $15 rate they made between July 2019 and April 2020 because they declined health benefits — a wage-increase measure approved by voters in the 2018 election.

Last fall, the city’s Department of Workforce and Employment Standards found the Edes Avenue hotel owed more than $400,000 in back pay to housekeepers, front desk staff and other employees who were almost all laid off when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

But the local chapter of UNITE HERE Local 2 now says the affected workers still haven’t seen a single check, even though the Radisson missed a deadline in December to appeal the city’s finding.

“The owner hasn’t even said anything to the effect of ‘I don’t have that money,'” said Sonya Karabel, a campaign researcher for the union. “These workers have been waiting years and years to receive the money they earned.”

The hotel’s owner is the Houston-based K&K Hotel group, which operates a number of hospitality sites and carries the Radisson brand at the Oakland airport location.

Soon, the 300-room hotel will shut down and be converted to affordable housing, part of the state’s Project Homekey initiative that first launched as a way to shelter homeless people during the pandemic.

Officials at K&K and Radisson management didn’t respond to requests for comment.

California Supportive Housing, the nonprofit acquiring the Radisson, is separately overseeing the rehabilitation of a Quality Inn motel near the airport — a process for which the city in January received $20 million in state money to facilitate.

 

Leaders of the hotel workers union have said they don’t want to interrupt the Radisson’s conversion to housing. Instead, they’re pressuring the city attorney’s office to sue K&K over the unpaid wages as a measure of enforcement.

“Until now, we have not received anything,” Ana Bermudez, a former laundry worker of three years at the Radisson, said in Spanish at a news conference last week outside the hotel. “We want the Radisson to pay attention to us and pay us what they owe us.”

Research shows wage theft is widespread throughout California, and employers are quick to evade retroactively paying workers even after being flagged by local jurisdictions.

Using federal data that outlined workers’ home addresses, researchers at a Rutgers University lab found as many as 14% of workers may have experienced yearly minimum-wage violations across San Francisco, Oakland, Fremont and surrounding cities between 2014 and 2023.

Dan Galvin, who led the study published this month, noted the finding that Black and Latino workers throughout the state were more likely than white workers to be illegally denied proper wages.

“It’s very common for employers who are found liable for wage theft to either just refuse to pay or sometimes they open up a new business under a different name so it’s harder to find them,” Galvin, who is also a professor of political science at Northwestern University, said in an interview.

For the hotel industry, though, he added, “I would assume it’s harder for them to get out from liability to pay.”


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