Radisson JFK and Butler Hospitality Busted Trying to Replace Union Workers

Evidence collected by Jose Fernandez, a union kitchen steward and cook at the Radisson JFK, while he was working at Butler Hospitality. Order tickets proved the hotel was outsourcing union work.

Hotel Voice, Summer 2022

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Radisson JFK closed its restaurant and bar, Connections. Shortly thereafter, the hotel devised a scheme to permanently eliminate union jobs in its Food & Beverage department. Instead of recalling its union employees, as the IWA required, it chose to subcontract the work to a company named Butler Hospitality. Butler leases hotel restaurant space to operate as a “ghost kitchen” to prepare and deliver food to hotels, one of which was right next door at the non-union Crowne Plaza Hotel JFK. This would end up being a costly mistake. The Union not only forced the Radisson JFK to stop using Butler, but won a decision in arbitration for backpay to the laid off union workers whose jobs were subcontracted.

Prior to the pandemic, union cooks would prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the hotel’s restaurant as well as items for its ‘Grab and Go’ station. When Banquet Houseperson Edwin Diaz noticed the pancakes, eggs, sandwiches, salads, and fruits that used to be prepared by union cooks were now being delivered from outside, he suspected the work of his union brothers and sisters was being outsourced. He began to take photos for evidence and sent them to his Business Agent, Mike Ryder.

At the same time, Jose Fernandez, a union kitchen steward and cook at the Radisson JFK, was collecting his own evidence. In October 2021, he was hired as a cook by Butler Hospitality, to work in a kitchen next door at the non-union Crowne Plaza Hotel JFK. Jose certainly didn’t enjoy the same quality of life working for Butler. He went from making $25.99 an hour with superior benefits that included a pension, free family healthcare, paid time off, and a stable schedule, to a precarious $17.00 an hour with zero benefits, not even medical.

To his shock, Jose realized he was doing the same work from his union job at the Radisson but for far less money as a non-union employee of Butler. Jose received order tickets with titles like, “Radisson Hotel JFK Airport” along with a room number. Once he finished preparing the orders, he witnessed another Butler employee loading the food onto a cart and rolling it across the parking lot in the direction of the Radisson. He even saw the Radisson’s Executive Chef visit Butler’s kitchen. The evidence that Butler was helping the Radisson eliminate a union department was mounting.

The Union utilized its grievance and arbitration machinery and filed the case for a mediation hearing where it warned the hotel that they can’t use third party contractors to replace union work. The hotel argued that Butler’s service was akin to guests ordering from GrubHub, or the like.

As hotel employees continued to compile evidence, the Union’s legal team subpoenaed the hotel for any contracts and invoices between the Radisson and Butler. The Union then filed for an arbitration hearing with the Impartial Chairperson.

After hearing arguments from both sides and reviewing all the evidence, on July 27th, the Impartial Chairperson ruled that HTC had overwhelming evidence proving that the hotel violated, among other things, Article 45(B) of the IWA, which prohibits the subcontracting of bargaining unit work if it adversely affects our members. The Impartial Chairperson directed the Radisson to cease and desist from using Butler’s services, recall members for any food and beverage services still being offered at the hotel, negotiate backpay for members who were laid off due to Butler, and to make Butler employees whole for the difference between what they were paid and the wages and benefits provided for under the IWA. While the arbitrator’s decision is crystal clear, the fight is not over yet. As of print, union representatives are fighting to get the hotel to comply with the arbitrator’s award. The hotel has stopped using Butler, but has yet to recall all of the affected members or negotiate fair backpay.

“It’s easy to think you don’t have to worry about losing your job because you’re a hard worker or your boss likes you,” says Jose Fernandez. “But the truth is, if you don’t have a union you can’t rely on having a job tomorrow. Take it from me, I worked at the Radisson for 14 years, I never got a write up, was employee of the month twice, and employee of the year, but if we didn’t have the Union, I would be out of a job.”