9/6/08

Labor-state card-check deal goes to court

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Lawsuit reflects strong ties between unions, pols

Everyone who does business in Boston knows that if you want to build a commercial project of any size in the city, you've got to go through the Menino administration and its Boston Redevelopment Authority. But if the claims made by operators of the Courtyard by Marriott in Dorchester are true, you may have to get a union's approval as well.

The tensions between the hotel's management firm, South Bay Boston Management Inc., and Unite Here Local 26 landed in Boston federal court now that the firm has sued Local 26 to end a unionization agreement that was signed five years ago.

South Bay, which is affiliated with Jiten Hotel Management of Brockton, wants a judge to rule that it no longer has to recognize Local 26 as a bargaining unit for the hotel workers. South Bay claims Jiten, which developed the hotel, was forced to sign the unionization agreement to get the BRA approval to build the hotel.

The fight reflects the strong ties that unions have with key political leaders in this state. It also highlights the potential ripple effects from an ongoing debate that will likely resume in Congress next year over whether unions should be given the right to use card-check agreements to organize, which are faster and easier to manage than long, drawn-out secret ballot elections.

As South Bay explains it in the suit, the controversy dates back to August 2003 when Jiten officials wondered why they were having a hard time getting the hotel on the BRA's agenda. A Jiten vice president, working with then-Brockton Mayor Jack Yunits, lined up a meeting with Boston Mayor Tom Menino in Brockton to discuss the problem.

At the meeting, according to the suit, Menino said the hotel operators would need to sign a card-check agreement with Local 26 to ensure the hotel's work force would be unionized. Such an agreement allows a union to be recognized as long as it collects authorization cards from the majority of affected workers. Approve the agreement, the suit says Jiten was told, and the hotel is a go. Jiten had already plowed $3 million into the project, so Jiten president Nayan Patel signed the agreement. The next day, the BRA approved the hotel.

The 164-room hotel, which overlooks the South Bay Center, opened for business in May 2005. Later that summer, Jiten sold a significant stake in the project to Pennsylvania hotel investment firm Hersha Hospitality Trust, and South Bay Boston Management was born.

Today, the hotel managers want out of the original union agreement. Local 26 obtained enough authorization cards to be recognized, but South Bay points to a clause in the agreement that says it expires three years after the hotel opens.

South Bay also claims the agreement has been illegal all along and an example of local interference with federal labor laws because of the way city officials forced the hotel to let Local 26 in its doors.

It's hard to know if this pushback against the union is being driven by Patel or his partners in Pennsylvania. Patel, who is also the president of South Bay, didn't return calls seeking comment. A representative who could speak for Hersha couldn't be reached, either. And a lawyer representing the hotel declined to comment.

City and union officials deny the charges in the lawsuit. “Boston is a union town and hotels are built and operated (with a) union,” says Janice Loux, the president of Local 26. “(But) this is a frivolous lawsuit brought by some bad people.”

BRA spokeswoman Susan Elsbree says the Menino administration tries to support organized labor. Unions, Elsbree says, have well-trained workers and strong safety records. She says they also help ensure appropriate compensation for employees. But she says the city does not legally require the use of a union to get projects through the BRA.

Debates like this may become obsolete if Congress approves the Employee Free Choice Act, which recently passed the House but died in the Senate and would guarantee unions the right to bypass elections in favor of the more expeditious card-check route.

For now, though, this particular fight will be left in the hands of a federal judge to decide.

- Jon Chesto is the business editor of The Patriot Ledger.

(tauntongazette.com)

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails