Hilton East Brunswick workers fight for their rights

NYHTC — February 06, 2013

In a strong show of unity, over 87% of the union-represented employees at the Hilton East Brunswick Hotel signed a petition last week asking their employer to immediately begin negotiating with the Union. The Union has been trying to set up dates for negotiations since November, but Fillmore, the owner and management company of the Hilton East Brunswick Hotel, refuses to meet before March.

The contract at the Hilton East Brunswick has been expired since our Union began representing the hotel in February of 2011. The expired contract has substantial problems that need to be addressed in negotiations, including that it grants broad and unreasonable rights to management, implements burdensome time limits for the employees to raise grievances, and denies the workers important job security rights.

Contract negotiations between the Union and the previous management company, Pyramid Hotel Group, were frustrating and largely unproductive. Pyramid refused to even engage in constructive dialogue about important contract language. Pyramid also hired a well known anti-union consultant, Jay Krupin, who delayed negotiations and rejected important contract proposals.

When Fillmore began self-managing the hotel on December 4, 2012, the workers were optimistic that the company would negotiate in good faith with the Union and that a fair contract could finally be achieved. However, the Union has requested negotiations dates from Fillmore's Human Resources and Operations Director, John Greene, more than five times since it learned that Fillmore would begin to self-manage the hotel and Greene has repeatedly insisted that he is too busy to meet. Bartender and Shop Steward Richard McDole comments, "Many of us have been loyal employees of the hotel for over 20 years, yet we haven't had a wage increase since September 2008. For Mr. Greene to say that he can't spare one day in three months to meet with our Union is outrageous."

Workers at the Hilton East Brunswick are particularly anxious to begin contract negotiations with management because since mid-January employees have reported that prospective buyers have been touring the hotel. When John Greene was asked about these tours, he acknowledged that all Fillmore locations are potentially for sale at any time and that there has been "some related activity at the Hilton East Brunswick", yet he criticized the Union for speaking to workers about the potential sale. Lead Engineer and Shop Steward Ralph Ward is frustrated, "Unfortunately, I feel like we are working with Pyramid all over again."

The workers at the Hilton East Brunswick have decided that enough is enough and signed the petition to voice their frustration with Fillmore's failure to schedule negotiations dates. Within the first six hours of circulating the petition, over 84% of the workers had signed, and only a day later, on January 31, over 87% of union represented employees had signed the petition. A delegation of Negotiating Committee Members hand-delivered the petition to General Manager Dennis Fisher. The delegation asked Fisher to communicate to his company and associate, John Greene, that the "overwhelming majority of the employees" want Fillmore to agree to negotiations dates this month.

In a letter to workers posted at the hotel on February 4th, John Greene again stated that all of Fillmore's properties are "potentially for sale at any time" and that "some groups have recently toured the property" but, equated concerns over the sale of the hotel with believing that the "sky is falling" or "Elvis is alive". John Greene did not respond to the request of over 87% of the union-represented employees at the hotel for him to contact the Union immediately to schedule negotiations this month, in February. Rather, he said that he had asked the Union to provide him with potential dates and times to meet in March.

Room Attendant, Mabel Opoku said about Greene's letter: "Mr. Greene says that we shouldn't worry about the fact that potential buyers are touring the hotel because we will be advised 'should any change in ownership status or in Fillmore Hospitality's role as the property manager occur'. That's not much consolation to me, that they will inform me once the deed is done. Really, the one thing that will restore my confidence in Fillmore and Mr. Greene is for them to agree to negotiate with the Union immediately."

The Union continues to prepare workers to fight for their rights and has filed a bad faith bargaining charge against Fillmore with the National Labor Relations Board.