Boathouse employees vote to authorize unfair labor practice strike

February 6, 2011

On June 23, union supporters at the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park voted overwhelmingly (83 to 1) to authorize the leadership of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO to call an unfair labor practice strike against Boathouse management. The question submitted to the workers was: "Do you authorize the leadership of the union to call a strike to make Boathouse management reinstate our illegally fired co-workers with full back pay, revoke and correct past unfair labor practices, and stop committing additional unfair labor practices?"

The authorization vote means that a strike at the Boathouse is imminent, and could be called at a moment's notice by the President of the union. It could happen tomorrow, or in several weeks depending on strategic considerations.

Those employees who have committed to supporting the union by signing union cards were eligible to vote. This included a majority of the existing permanent full-time workers, many of the long-term employees unlawfully terminated in retaliation for supporting the union (who, the union insists, must be reinstated with back pay), and even some of the new temporary employees who were hired to replace the terminated workers and to staff the restaurant in anticipation of a strike.

In recent weeks, management has attempted to pack the staff with relatives and friends of managers and the owner, Dean Poll, and with other employees less willing or able to support the union, including a large number of recently paroled prison inmates residing in a half-way house in the Bronx. Many of them have expressed fears to union organizers that going on strike might jeopardize their paroles. However, officials of the NYS Parole Board have assured the union that those workers would not be violating the terms of their paroles by going on strike and have an absolute right to do so. Many new employees have quit after experiencing the abusive behavior of Boathouse managers.

Since the union's card signing drive in January, Boathouse management has conducted a ruthless campaign to eliminate union supporters and to intimidate those who remain on the job.

In one notorious mass termination on January 25, now known to employees as the "Chair Massacre," 16 Boathouse banquet servers (approximately half the banquet department) were informed that they had been terminated weeks earlier, without their knowledge or any allegation of misconduct or poor performance, and replaced with "cater-waiters" working for an outside company. Director of Operations Anthony Walton told those employees that they were being discarded like old "chairs." Many other employees have been terminated for supporting the union and were given spurious rationales for being fired. For example, one new employee who signed a union card was told he was being fired for reporting a shortage of ketchup, rolling up his sleeves too high and drinking water during a pre-service staff meeting.

On January 27, the union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board asking it to conduct a union representation election. However, the Government agency decided unilaterally to indefinitely suspend the processing of the union's election petition because of the extraordinary severity of the unfair labor practices alleged against management. The NLRB has been investigating those charges, and the union expects the Government to issue complaints against the Boathouse management on many of them, especially the most egregious ones. Note: an NLRB complaint is the labor law equivalent of a criminal indictment.

In February, management and a small group of employees, who are closely attached to management, filed counter-charges with the NLRB against the union to muddy the waters. We have been advised by the NLRB that the charges against the union have been found to be totally baseless and will be dismissed by the Board if Dean Poll does not agree to withdraw them.

In spite of the Government's intense investigation of numerous violations of federal law committed by him and his managers, Dean Poll has continued to commit serious unfair labor practices, and the union has had to file yet more charges against the Boathouse as recently as June 30.

One extremely blatant and serious example occurred on June 20, 2011 at a captive audience meeting which employees were required to attend to listen to a professional union-buster hired by Dean Poll. The anti-union consultant who identified herself as "Luisa," (refusing to give her last name) informed the employees (in Spanish) that management would get rid of any workers who supported the union, if the union drive did not succeed. These were her words, verbatim:

"Porque dejame decirte que no hay nada mas feo que encontrate con los pantalones por las rodillas allí afuera cuando ellos dicen que te van ayudar y no te ayudan y tu vas a estar parado solo ah­ en cuero. Yo se porque eso me a pasado a mi y la compañi­a despues van estar bravos porque si tu estavas causando problemas aqui­ con los compañeros de trabajo ellos no te van a quere aquí­, es normal. Porque si era el negocio tuyo y tienes un empleado que esta causando una división entre los trabajadores, tu no quieres esa persona ahí­. Y si el sindicato no te pudo ayudar y no va a perder la cara y en ayudarte despues porque ya quedaron mal y se van ir corriendo! Tu te tienes que proteger tu mismo y fue una de las cosas que mi abuela me dice:si tu no te cuidas nadie te va a cuidar."

English translation: "Because let me tell you that there's nothing worse than finding yourself with your pants around your knees out there when they say they're going to help you and they don't help you and you're going to be standing alone there naked. I know because that's happened to me and the company later is going to be fierce because if you were there causing problems here with your coworkers, they're not going to want you here, it's normal. Because if this was your business, and you have an employee that is causing a division between the workers, you don't want that person there. And if the union couldn't help you and they're not going to lose face and help you afterwards because they were already left in a bad position, and they're going to go running! You have to protect yourself and that was one of the things my grandma tells me that if you don't take care of yourself, no one will protect you."

After reading the transcript of the speech given by Dean Poll's anti-union spokesperson to the employees, the union's attorney Dan Silverman commented, "This is as good an example of a smoking gun in the context of unlawful intimidation of workers as could be imagined. Boathouse management continues to show that it will stop at nothing to make the holding of a fair representation election an impossibility."

Next week, all Hotel Trades Council field representatives, internal organizers, and rank-and-file leaders will begin signing up volunteers from among our union's 30,000 members to leaflet the public at sites across the city once the Boathouse strike begins. Local 6 President Jim Donovan commented, "We will put as much effort into turnout for the Boathouse strike as we do at election time."