Hotel Files NLRB Charges Against Union and City of Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh’s so-called “labor peace ordinance” enacted in 1999 is at the heart of a legal dispute between the developer of the newly renovated downtown Pittsburgh Fulton Renaissance Hotel and the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Int’l Union.  The Nat’l Labor Relations Bd.’s Pittsburgh reg’l office is investigating charges of coercion and intimidation filed in early July by the hotel against HERE and the Pittsburgh City Council.

Acting Reg’l Director Stanley Zawatski said the hotel’s unfair labor practices charges are still under investigation. The ULPs grow out of an agreement brokered by Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy early this year in which hotel developer Sage Hospitality Resources of Denver agreed to voluntarily recognize HERE Local 57 if the union could demonstrate through signed authorization cards that it had the support of the majority of the hotel’s employees once the newly renovated facility opened in March. Sage earlier had accepted some $3.5 million in city tax incentive funds as part of the multimillion dollar hotel renovation project. Under city ordinance No. 22, passed in 1999, as a condition of receiving public funds, Sage agreed to remain neutral in any organizing drive and to bargain collectively once the union showed it had majority support.

Local 57 began collecting authorization cards in April and in June determined it had cards from more than half of the approximately 160 hotel employees, according to Ed Nassan, Local 57’s president. But when a city official verified the cards, several cards had been revoked at the urging of management, according to Nassan. The union no longer had a majority.  The local initially contested the card check outcome through arbitration, but has since opted simply to try to gather more cards.

Meanwhile, the hotel on June 28 filed unfair labor practice charges challenging the legality of the city’s tax incentive ordinance. It claimed Local 57 had conspired with members of the city council to force the employees to become union members without a secret ballot election.   Attorney John M. O’Donnell of the Pittsburgh firm of Stokes & Murphy, who represents the hotel, said the neutrality agreement required by the ordinance is invalid because the hotel was coerced into accepting it. The city council was acting in concert with the union in enacting the ordinance, he charged.  “Our position is that employees should make the decision [to organize] through a secret ballot election,” he said. “They have a legal right to organize, and if they elect the union, the hotel will bargain.”  [BNA 8/30/01]