Yoshi’s has hotel workers singing the blues. Will Sweet Honey In The Rock be next?

by Marc Norton

Hotel Frank picket line

The boosters behind the redevelopment of the Fillmore district call it the “Heart and Soul of San Francisco.” And at the center of that redevelopment is Yoshi’s, the shiny new jazz venue that anchors the Jazz Heritage Center and that San Francisco’s tax payers loaned its owners $7.2 million to build. But Yoshi’s is more than a little lacking in heart and soul right now, as it callously violates the worker-called boycott of Hotel Frank, a small hotel near Union Square.

The 35 workers at Hotel Frank are the real heart and soul of San Francisco. Since Wells Fargo took over the hotel – once part of Frank Lembi’s now-defunct real estate empire – in a foreclosure sale last May, these workers have had to fight day and night to maintain a modicum of dignity on the job. Wells Fargo installed a new hotel management company from Portland, Oregon called Provenance. Provenance’s first act on the job? Taking the union contract and throwing it in the trash.

Provenance increased the already heavy workload for room cleaners from 14 to 15 and even 16 rooms per shift. It cut staffing for maintenance and laundry workers, housemen, bellmen, and front desk staff to the bone. It has refused to continue health and welfare and pension benefits in the same manner as every other union hotel in the city. It fired union activists for their union activities. It fired a housekeeper who sprained her ankle due to the work speedup because she couldn’t get back to work fast enough. The National Labor Relations Board has charged the hotel with violating federal labor law.

Provenance took a group of workers who were proud of their hotel and the service it provided and pushed them to call a boycott of their own hotel. Workers whose wages and tips depend on filling the hotel so they get shifts and tips are asking customers not to come to the Hotel Frank until Provenance ceases its outrageous assault on their livelihood, benefits, and working conditions. They have organized two or more picket lines a week at the hotel, and they’ve authorized a strike to take place in the future.

Such courage and sacrifice on behalf of workers is so often the inspiration for the music Yoshi’s brings to San Francisco every day. And yet, Yoshi’s is asking its musicians to cross the workers’ picket line and stay at the Hotel Frank while they’re in town for their gigs.

A few weeks ago, Mary Wilson, formerly of the Supremes, the First Lady of Motown, was forced by Yoshi’s to navigate our picket line. Just this past Sunday, Maceo Parker, who got his start with James Brown, was woken up at 7:00 AM by a dozen demonstrators.

Later this week, Sweet Honey In The Rock is doing a three-night show at Yoshi’s – a tribute to “Nina, Odetta, and Miriam.” Asking Sweet Honey– a 30-year-old ensemble of African-American women singing songs of justice – to cross a picket line while in town to perform a tribute to Odetta, the voice of the Civil Rights Movement? These are artists more likely to be seen walking a picket line than crossing one. What is Yoshi’s thinking?

It should come as no surprise that Yoshi’s is thinking about what every business that has lost its connection to its heart and soul is thinking about: dollars and cents. When we asked John Litz, General Manager of Yoshi’s, why he was sending musicians to the Hotel Frank, his answer was simple. The Hotel Frank gives Yoshi’s a cheap room rate.

We love Yoshi’s. Some of us have had religious experiences there. It is an organization that is rooted in the community, and serves the community. But Yoshi’s management and owners need to spend a little less time checking their balance books and a little more time listening to the musicians in the club or exploring the exhibits at the Jazz Heritage Center.

We hope Yoshi’s will find its conscience between now and when Sweet Honey in the Rock arrives in town to sing some of Odetta’s classic songs of struggle.

Well I’ve got a hammer
And I’ve got a bell
And I’ve got a song to sing
All over this land
It’s the hammer of justice
It’s the bell of freedom
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Marc Norton was a bellman for nearly twelve years at Hotel Frank in downtown San Francisco, until he was fired after Wells Fargo foreclosed on the property. For info on the fight at Hotel Frank, see www.HotelFrankSF.info. Contact Marc at nortonsf@ix.netcom.com, or at www.MarcNorton.us.

One Response

  1. […] UPDATE: Those who have been following this story know that Yoshi’s, a prominent San Francisco jazz club, has been sending its out-of-town musicians […]

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