Harbor Cruises Ltd. violated federal labor laws by pressuring workers to reject a 1994 union move to organize service employees on the Lady Baltimore and Bay Lady, and later firing union activists, the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday.
By ruling in favor of the union that was seeking to organize waiters, waitresses, bartenders and galley staff who work aboard the two Baltimore cruise ships, the NLRB affirmed the decision last June by federal Administrative Law Judge John H. West.
Judge West found that Harbor Cruises Ltd. committed several unfair labor practices. Evidence presented by the union included an audio tape recording of a company meeting in which one of the managers told workers that the company would go out of business if the workers voted for a union.
The NLRB ruling said Harbor Cruises "committed numerous, flagrant and pervasive unfair labor practices in reaction to the union's organizational campaign."
One of the violations the board cited involved an employee handbook that said, "Griping to other employees or outsiders is not considered [a] professional or appropriate manner to resolve problems."
The board also said that Kitty Bona, the company's vice president of operations, "was personally involved in the commission of many unlawful acts, which interfered with the election held on March 26, 1994."
"It's a wonderful decision. It's been a long haul -- two years," said John S. Singleton, the Baltimore labor lawyer who represented the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 37.
The union was unsuccessful in its attempt to organize service workers on the cruise ships.
J. Michael McGuire, the lawyer who represented Harbor Cruises Ltd., noted that yesterday's decision is "not self-enforcing" by the NLRB and could be overturned in court on appeal. Mr. McGuire said the company will review the ruling before deciding whether to voluntarily comply with the sanctions or appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
"We strongly disagree with the board's decision and we doubt that a federal appeals court would enforce the board's order," said Mr. McGuire, a partner in the law firm of Shawe & Rosenthal in Baltimore.
Mr. Singleton, the union's lawyer, said "it is extremely rare" for a federal appellate court to disagree with an NLRB ruling or fail to enforce such a ruling.
In affirming Judge West's ruling, the NLRB ordered the company to rehire -- and pay back wages with interest -- to the employees who were fired or placed on reduced work schedules after the 1994 union organizing drive.
The NLRB said in its order that it will conduct a new election for the workers.
Mr. Singleton estimated that back wages -- due to 10 individuals -- would total $25,000 to $30,000. Mr. McGuire said Harbor Cruises' employees involved in the organizing drive had earlier this year been offered their jobs back but declined the offer.
The union's organizing drive began after Harbor Cruise Ltd. employees complained of scheduling concerns and alleged that the company was pocketing a portion of their gratuities from customers.