The Kenwood Press
News: 08/01/2020

Labor dispute likely behind golf exit in Oakmont

Alec Peters

Oakmonters have been wondering why Advance Golf Partners (AGP), the operator of the two golf courses and associated facilities owned by Oakmont, decided to suddenly bolt from a 20-year lease with no public explanation.

AGP president Larry Galloway said in a July 14 message that the Dallas-based company was, after just over five months on the job, forced to make the decision due to “insurmountable obstacles” and that they were leaving immediately.

Also on July 14, Oakmont Village Association (OVA) board of directors president Steve Spanier sent an email to residents stating that AGP informed the board of the decision on July 9, and that AGP was terminating the lease due to “financial difficulties.”

Some of the muddy waters might be clarified by something else that happened July 14. On that day, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed an official complaint against AGP for a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The charge was first brought by Laborers’ Local 324, a union which represents a group of golf facility workers, such as groundskeepers, that has had a union shop in Oakmont for three decades.

Documents from the NRLB were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

The union had filed charges with the NLRB back in February, soon after the OVA inked a lease with AGP. The union charged AGP with refusing to consider for hire, and refusing to hire, many of the union employees who worked for the previous entity in charge, the Oakmont Golf Club (OGC).

In the NLRB July 14 complaint, it states that AGP, “established a hiring procedure and engaged in other conduct designed to exclude, or limit, the hiring of Unit employees formerly employed by the Oakmont Golf Club, Inc.” The complaint also accuses AGP of refusing to recognize and bargain collectively with the union.

“…AGP has been discriminating in regard to the hire or tenure or terms or conditions of employment of its employees, thereby discouraging membership in a labor organization,” in violation of labor laws, the complaint reads in part.

AGP’s Galloway declined to comment, and an answer to the NRLB complaint by AGP was filed on July 28, too late for the Kenwood Press to obtain by press time.

A hearing in front of an administrative law judge has been scheduled for Oct. 19 in San Francisco. In its complaint, the NLRB states it is seeking, “relief as may be just and proper to remedy the unfair labor practices alleged.”

If an eventual ruling goes against AGP, damages might mean having to give back pay to employees the judge determines they should have hired, among other possibilities.

In its initial filing regarding AGP in February, the union also named the OVA, trying to paint the two entities as one in regards to violating labor laws. But the allegations against the OVA were dismissed in a July 14 NRLB letter, which concluded in part that, “there is insufficient evidence that OVA had any role in the staffing of the golf course, which it leased to AGP.”

Laborers’ Local 324 is appealing OVA’s dismissal from the case.

The OVA was also dismissed for similar reasons from a another labor matter, this one involving union charges against the previous owner of the golf course, the OGC, also filed in February.

The OGC had been undergoing financial issues for some time when they solicited purchase bids for the 250 acres that include two golf courses, pro shops and restaurant facilities.

As a final transaction was delayed until early February, money troubles caused the OGC, which is still in the process of dissolving, to mostly close down the golf course and dismiss most of their employees.

In late February, in a NLRB filing, the union claimed a number of violations of labor law, including, in part, an allegation that the OGC laid off its employees because of their union activities. The NLRB recently decided to dismiss that charge, concluding that the, “OGC laid off its employees because it was selling the golf course and ceasing operations.”

Other charges were dismissed as well, but one remains, having to do with refusing to bargain with the union regarding the effects of the OGC layoffs.

What’s left of the OGC and AGP cases have been consolidated by the NRLB for the Oct. 19 hearing. Like any litigation, matters may be settled between now and then.

As for current golf course operations, it’s business as usual as the OVA quickly signed one of the original entities that bid to manage the facilities, CourseCo, to a 60-day contract.

In the interim the OVA has begun a competitive negotiation process with both CourseCo and another original bidder, Billy Caspers Golf, for a long-term lease.

Tom Bugbee, Chief Operating Officer for Petaluma-based CourseCo, said that business has been steady on the golf course.

“The golf club has a lot of very loyal people, and they just love the golf courses,” said Bugbee.

CourseCo manages 39 courses in six states, mostly in Northern California. In Sonoma County, CourseCo also operates the Foxtail Golf Club in Rohnert Park and the Petaluma Golf & Country Club in Petaluma. Workers at FoxTail are represented by Laborers’ Local 324.

Renovations of the pro shop are due to be completed soon, and work on the restaurant space is hoped to be done by early fall. The OVA’s Building Construction Committee is overseeing this work now.

Though all parties involved in the labor matters declined to comment, the topic of AGP’s departure were discussed briefly at the OVA’s July 21 board meeting.

“We were shocked and disappointed,” said Spanier. “We do know what happened but simply can’t talk about it,” on advice from OVA’s attorneys. “We understand what happened with AGP and we believe that both of the potential operators will be able to successfully avoid the pitfalls,” AGP experienced.

Spanier explained that AGP was within its contractual rights to leave the agreement without penalty.

“We wrote it that way because we didn’t believe it would be tough to find a new operator. People were banging down our doors the first time around… also we didn’t want anyone there that wasn’t going to succeed.”

“I have quite a bit of optimism about the future,” said Spanier.