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Nasty Union Divorce
in Philadelphia Fuels Lawsuit
 Against Aramark Corp

By Jane M. Von Bergen, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 5, 2010--The National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia filed unfair-labor-practice charges this week against Aramark Corp., accusing the Philadelphia food-service company of withholding union dues and failing to bargain.

A hearing is set for May 3 before a Philadelphia NLRB administrative law judge.

More than 1,300 Aramark workers at the Convention Center, St. Joseph's University, the University of Pennsylvania's Steinberg Conference Center, the Wachovia Center, Citizens' Bank Park, and Lincoln Financial Field are affected.

Also involved are Aramark food-service workers at Boeing Co.'s helicopter facilities in Ridley Park.

The case arises out of a nasty union divorce that made headlines nationally and locally. Workers United split in March 2009 from Unite Here, a national union of hospitality workers. Since then, the two organizations have been arguing, in court and in workplaces, over union assets and members.

In the Philadelphia area, one group, the Philadelphia Joint Board, left Unite Here and switched to Workers United.

Now there is a battle over local members, including Aramark workers.

Some companies, including Aramark, responded to the battle by withholding union dues, saying it was not clear which union should get the dues.

The NLRB hearing in the Aramark case comes as a result of a complaint filed against Aramark by the Workers United Philadelphia Joint Board. A spokesman for the board said it was owed several hundred thousands of dollars in union dues.

The local Unite Here organization is not mentioned in the NLRB allegations, but the group does plan to intervene in this case, spokesman Antony Dugdale said.

In Philadelphia, Aramark workers had long been members of Local 274, a hospitality union. Before the divorce, that local had been managed by the Philadelphia Joint Board. After the divorce, some Local 274 workers wanted to stay with the hospitality union, Unite Here.

Other Local 274 workers wanted to ally with the Philadelphia Joint Board.

"The NLRB has provided guidance that Local 274 is the union, but both unions are claiming they are true Local 274," said Aramark spokeswoman Kristine Grow. "Which of them is correct? We're not in a position to say."

The NLRB complaint says that based on previously negotiated collective-bargaining agreements with the Philadelphia Joint Board, Local 274 Workers United, Philadelphia Joint Board is the "successor" union to Unite Here Local 274.

To Joint Board leaders, the NLRB language affirms that they are the legitimate representatives of Aramark workers.

To Dugdale and other Unite Here leaders in the city, the language is a small legal step in a process that is nowhere near completed.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or


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