Hotel Workers Stage May Day Strike at proposed West Oakland Hotel site demanding a “Sanctuary Workplace”

2 mins read

An estimated 60 workers from hotels in Oakland and Emeryville walked off the job and assembled at the site of the proposed Mandela Hotel near Target today. A hotel that hasn’t yet been approved, but labor groups are already organizing around demanding it be recognized as a “Sanctuary Workplace”.

“I am walking off the job with my coworkers on May 1st to demand sanctuary workplaces for all,” noted Yolanda Barron Carmona through a press release. “For us, as immigrant workers and Unite Here members, ‘sanctuary workplaces’ include protection from retaliation, ensuring that the employer cannot use workers’ immigration status against them.” Carmona, identified herself as an Emeryville hotel housekeeper.

The event recognized the current political climate stoked by President Donald Trump’s plans for his notorious Mexico border wall and threats to thwart so-called sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding. Protesters tore down a prop “wall” and bashed a piñata bearing the likeness of the Republican president. The election of Trump has energized various labor groups and social justice causes to join forces and advocate for overlapping interests.

The City of Oakland recently unanimously passed an ordinance that asked that businesses within the City voluntarily commit to being Sanctuary Workplaces. The ordinance language calls for workplaces where “workers are respected and not threatened or discriminated against based on their immigration status.”

According to the protest’s organizer, Unite Here Local 2850RAM Hotels has not yet committed to the hotel being unionized. “We want whomever comes here to bring good jobs,” noted Unite Here campaign researcher Taliah Mirmalek. Mirmalek referenced Hyatt Place and Marriott as examples of hotels that included union-friendly language in their contracts that she referred to as a card check or neutrality agreement. Mirmalek noted that Unite Here would fight the project if the developer would not agree to this.

The border area between West Oakland and Emeryville, and specifically this spot, have been challenging. Business leaders have expressed concern that activists will demand too much and derail the project.

Most would agree that the hospitality industry was built around the labor of immigrants and could not function as it does today without their efforts. The counter-narrative being touted by some is that hiring undocumented workers hurts American labor. Knowingly hiring undocumented workers is currently a violation of Federal Law and subject to penalties, but is not actively enforced in many regions including ours.

“May Day” is not a recognized U.S. national holiday but has quickly evolved into a day of protest for local labor groups and other political activists. Its origins date back to an 1886 incident in Chicago where violence erupted over a strike to establish an 8 hour work day referred to as The Haymarket Affair. Today, it coincides with International Workers’ Day which has historic ties to Communist and Socialist organizations.

Some groups have tried to counter this day by celebrating Loyalty Day which according to Wikipedia recognizes “the heritage of American freedom”. Loyalty Day was created in reaction to the Communist Red Scare of the 1920’s. The U.S. does of course honor our own version of Labor Day in the fall, but many think it has lost its meaning over time and has been coerced by consumerism.

The protest concluded about 2:30 p.m. and participants headed to the main May Day march in Oakland’s Fruitvale District.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. “Knowingly hiring undocumented workers is currently a violation of Federal Law and subject to penalties, but is not actively enforced in many regions including ours.”

    That’s not accurate. In 2015, for example, a Richmond, CA company was fined $605,000 for I-9 violations. These enforcements are done via I-9 audits. These audits increased dramatically under President Obama peaking at 3,127 nationwide in 2013. Over 4,000 employers were arrested for I-9 violations under the last administration.

    It’s indicative of how bad an idea this is that neither the City of Emeryville nor Unite Here have declared themselves to be “Sanctuary Employers”.

    Being a Sanctuary City is legal. That’s different. There is nothing that obligates a city to help the federal government.

    Being a Sanctuary Employer is absolutely, 100% illegal. There is a sophisticated framework in place to catch violators. And the federal government WILL come after you, particularly if you’re a larger company like a hotel that hires a large number of immigrants.

    For the Emeryville City Council or Unite Here to encourage violation of federal law is irresponsible. To encourage others to do this and risk jail time and financial ruin while you sit back risking nothing is hypocritical as hell.

    • It gets really fun when you add in whistleblower protection. So let’s say a hotel or Emeryville business decides to be a “Sanctuary Workplace” per council’s request. They make a policy that forbids their HR department from following the law (no filling out I-9’s, no checking documents, etc).

      The HR employees refuse to enforce these policies. The employer is powerless. They can’t force employees to break the law and open themselves up to a wrongful termination suit if they try.

      The employee has the right to turn in the employer. At that point, they become a protected whistleblower.

      If they’ve been fired, they get their employment reinstated, benefits restored, lost wages paid along with any government imposed penalties. And the business and its owner gets prosecuted.

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