Asbestos project forces emergency union meetings at New Yorker Hotel

March 18, 2013

The health and safety of our members is the most important issue our Union deals with," Hotel Trades Council President Peter Ward told a packed arbitrator's office on March 13. Workers from the New Yorker Hotel understood this, but it seemed that management did not.

Ward, other union officers and New Yorker employees were present at the arbitrator's office that day because of the hotel's violation of an arbitrator's consent award that was issued last year.

The case began in February of 2012, after the New Yorker Hotel began an asbestos abatement project that prompted the Union to file a case before the arbitrator. In that case, the arbitrator, Elliott Shriftman, issued a consent award. Under terms of this award, the hotel agreed to provide to the Union advance notice of any construction work. The New Yorker also agreed that in the event of any asbestos abatement work it would provide advance notice to the Union, the hotel's employees and Emilcott, which is a qualified and independent environmental, health and safety firm. The hotel also agreed to provide testing for asbestos exposure to any employees that requested it. In addition, the hotel promised to provide work orders and other records pertaining to asbestos removal on a going forward basis.

It appeared that the hotel was in compliance with the consent award until recently, when the Union learned that asbestos abatement had been taking place without notification and other requirements contained in the original agreement. When the hotel refused to abide by the agreement, the Union was left with no choice but to call an emergency meeting on March 13 in the lobby of the hotel.

The meeting lasted three hours, and it was described by Hotel Trades Council Executive Vice President Chris Cusack as "the most lively one I've seen in a very long time." The meeting ended when a cease and desist order was issued by the arbitrator's office. The arbitrator also summoned both parties to his office. There, scores of New Yorker employees were joined by Hotel Trades Council President Peter Ward and other union officers.

Prior to the hearing, Ward met with the New Yorker employees. He praised their solidarity and saluted them on their determination to have management obey the contract and all orders from the arbitrator. Ward said the Union takes health and safety issues very seriously, and he explained the potential health problems that can be associated with asbestos. He condemned New Yorker management for failing to notify the Union, the employees and Emilcott about entire segments of the asbestos removal project, noting repeated violations that union officers had found in the hotel.

Ward's remarks were followed by an emergency arbitration hearing which ended when arbitrator Schriftman issued a bench order requiring the hotel to stop all construction in the hotel until a full hearing was held on Wednesday, March 20. That should have been the end of this unfortunate episode, but management waited less than 24 hours before violating the arbitrator's bench order. This led to another emergency meeting in the lobby of the hotel on March 14.

Chris Cusack may have thought that the emergency meeting held in the New Yorker's lobby on March 13 was the most lively one he'd seen in a long time, but he didn't have to wait even a full day for a livelier one. The meeting on March 14 was so lively, even some of the hotel's guests joined in some of the chants. Other guests waited in a long, long line to be checked into the New Yorker, while still other guests toted their own luggage. "Wow," one guest told Hotel Voice, "this is louder than yesterday's gathering!" Indeed it was, as members at the New Yorker displayed plenty of spirit and resolve.

The meeting only ended when another bench order was issued by arbitrator Shriftman. The arbitrator ordered the hotel to post security guards in all areas of the hotel relevant to the case and further ordered that the guards keep all people away from those areas. Shriftman said the Union was free to seek liquidated damages since the hotel has now repeated its violation of his orders. In addition, Shriftman ordered a full hearing on the matter to take place inside the hotel itself on Wednesday, March 20.

Hotel Voice will report on the results of the March 20 hearing. In the meantime, members at the New Yorker have every reason to feel proud of the fact that they were clearly willing to stand up for themselves and their families, and the health and safety language in the contract that is designed to protect them.