A large hotel building with palm trees growing beside it.
The Radisson in East Oakland was used as a shelter for homeless people during the pandemic. Credit: Pete Rosos

Oakland officials claim that a Radisson Hotel in East Oakland violated a local minimum wage law by underpaying scores of workers for nearly a year. The city’s Department of Workplace and Employment Standards has ordered the Radisson to pay $404,491 to 128 workers.

A representative for the Oakland Radisson did not respond to a request for comment.

The restitution amount is the largest demand ever made by the city. 

An investigation by the department found that the Radisson Hotel on Edes Avenue violated Oakland’s Hotel Minimum Wage and Humane Workload Ordinance by failing to pay workers the correct wage rates from July 2019 through April 2020, according to a letter city officials sent to the hotel Wednesday.

Oakland voters established the minimum wage law when they Measure Z in 2018. This measure also established the Department of Workplace and Employment Standards to enforce the rules in 2020. 

Under the law, Oakland hotels must pay their employees at least $15 per hour with health benefits, or $20 per hour if they work without benefits. The city audited the Radisson’s records and found that the hotel had underpaid 128 employees who were working for the minimum wage without benefits. 

Department Director Emylene Aspilla, who took the reins just over a year ago, told The Oaklandside that this is the department’s largest wage determination yet. 

“This took a long time, but it’s because we wanted to get it just right,” Aspilla told The Oaklandside. “We know that three years is a long time to do this, and it is our goal to try our best to accelerate that timeline.”

Wage theft is a major problem in the Bay Area. Earlier this year, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that a Marriott Hotel had stolen roughly $9 million in service charges that should have been paid to its food servers. In 2021, California workers filed almost 19,00 claims totaling over $338 million in stolen wages. Even when workers win judgments, it can take them years to actually receive the money they’re owed. 

Isaiah Toney, deputy director of campaigns for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, said his organization is part of a coalition of groups the city has contracted with to educate Oakland workers about local labor standards and their legal rights.

Toney told The Oaklandside he’s excited about the new direction the department has been going in under Aspilla, but he’d like to see an expansion of its enforcement and educational programs. 

“It’s clear to us that there’s a lot of work to be done not just in the hotel and hospitality industry, but in employment all across Oakland,” Toney said. 

The department is also seeking $105,555 in restitution for former staff who worked at Hi Felicia, a popular fine-driving restaurant in downtown Oakland that closed in May. Hi Felicia’s owner, Imana Ewart, who goes by Imana, used some of the service charges to pay for higher minimum salaries for her staff, including non-servers. The city says 100% of the service charges should have gone to workers serving customers. 

Imana told The Oaklandside that she was not aware of this requirement under Oakland’s law and that she plans to appeal the ruling.

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, NBCNews.com, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.