Omni's dispute with union will go to judge NLRB complaint says hotel refused to recognize local bargaining unit

A year-long struggle between the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel and its employees union will continue when an administrative law judge hears charges that the hotel tried to bust the last union of hotel workers in Baltimore.

The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint last month saying the hotel solicited employees to sign petitions to abolish the union and then failed to recognize it as a bargaining unit.


"It's a flat-out attempt to bust the union. They have no problem intimidating people, coercing people," said Paul Richards, executive secretary-treasurer of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 7.

"This has nothing to do with anything but money. They want to hold down the workers' wages and benefits."


The hotel denies all the allegations, saying that the employees no longer wanted the union to represent them.

"This is really a non-issue," said Jay P. Krupin, an attorney representing the 707-room hotel, downtown's largest. A majority of the employees petitioned to decertify the union, he said, and therefore there is no reason for the hotel to continue to negotiate with the union.

"The union is embarrassed. They didn't do their job and represent them," Krupin said, adding that union officials are now trying to save the last hotel workers union in the city.

A judge will decide the case between the two parties. No hearing date has been set.

A contract between the union and the hotel expired in September 1995 after the workers voted not to accept a new contract that included wage concessions and a reduction in benefits, Richards said. But the union decided not to strike.

"We are not rich workers in this union. They couldn't stand to go out on a picket line for 13 months," Richards said. The union's 300 employees are bellmen, cafeteria workers, housekeeping workers and doormen.

Richards said the workers sometimes join hired pickets to carry signs in front of the hotel in the afternoon. In addition, the union has asked the public to boycott the hotel.

Last year, the union was successful in getting the United States Catholic Conference to cancel reservations at the Omni for 200 bishops during Pope John Paul II's visit because of the pickets.


The hotel's manager said this week that he has rarely seen hotel employees picketing.

That is because employees are afraid of being fired, said Marcia Bryant, a laundry processor.

"They picked at people, bullied people, came out and harassed us on the picket line," she said.

Bryant said one manager told her "I could pay him my union dues and he could do the same for me" that the union did.

The Omni was owned by Metro Hotels Inc. until last March, when the Gencom Group of Houston purchased the twin towers at 101 W. Fayette St.

The NRLB complaint is filed against Metro, however. Louis D'Amico, regional director of the NLRB, said it was currently investigating another union charge against Gencom. He said he could not discuss the details of it.


The NLRB current complaint alleges the hotel management had: Discontinued holiday pay;

Negotiated directly with the employees rather than through the union;

Videotaped employees as they picketed;

Threatened to fire employees who wanted to be represented by the union;

Offered employees money or benefits if they signed a petition to get rid of the union.

Ella Walker, a salad and sandwich maker who has worked at the Omni for 24 years, said she was given an 8-cents-an-hour raise by the company, but was then required to pay more for benefits. "So we are not gaining anything," she said.


A strong union supporter, Walker said she wants the union representation back.

Pub Date: 10/23/96