Don’t mess with workers’ union rights

The Meadowlands View Hotel in North Bergen, N.J., violated rights of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council in three separate circumstances. Photo credit: Google Maps (Meadowlands View Hotel )

Got union, must bargain. Presumably the Meadowlands View Hotel in North Bergen, N.J., now knows this.

The hotel violated rights of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council in three separate circumstances. No surprise, the union sued.

The trio of errors comprised the following:

  1. A hotel maid was called into work by mistake. She wasn’t needed and so was sent home, without pay. She complained to the hotel and the union. In another incident, a supervisor directed the same maid to change a stained comforter. The maid claims she did. The hotel asserted she flipped it over instead. The inn’s vice president disciplined the maid. She again complained to the union. This irked the vice president as evidenced by comments that the union cost him “a lot of time and money” and “when the union comes, things get ugly.” Soon thereafter the maid was fired.
  2. A union representative regularly visited the hotel to check on the employees. During one visit he and a hotel employee had a heated oral argument. Per witnesses, it was escalated mostly by the hotel employee. The next day the hotel sent the union a letter banning the representative from the hotel and threatening to call police. Thereafter, employees needing union assistance had to work with the representative remotely.
  3. The hotel contributed to a health insurance fund for its employees. The hotel stopped making payments and decided unilaterally to obtain coverage from a different insurer. The hotel cancelled the existing coverage and waited seven months to secure new insurance. During that time workers were uninsured.

The union’s grievances were heard by the National Labor Relations Board. It ruled in favor of the union on all three counts. The hotel appealed to a federal court and lost again.

Concerning the fired housekeeper, referring complaints about an employer to one’s union is protected activity. Employers cannot fire a union employee for protected activity. Penalty included reinstatement, back pay and reimbursement of search-for-work expenses.

Concerning the banned union representative, employers must let union representatives visit their members. Further, the collective bargaining agreement required the hotel to admit official union representatives to “observe the working conditions.” Penalty was to grant the representative access.

Unilateral cancellation of employees’ health insurance likewise violates the rights of union workers. An employer must bargain in good faith over terms of employment, including health insurance. Penalty included making delinquent contributions and compensating workers for all medical expenses incurred.

The lesson is clear. Don’t mess with rights of union members.

Karen Morris is a lawyer, municipal judge and Distinguished Professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., where she teaches hospitality law.