|By Sean Manget, Alaska Journal of
Commerce, AnchorageMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 11, 2010 - --In the ongoing labor dispute between the company that manages the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel and Spa and the union representing many of its workers, the federal government has picked a side: the union.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint in favor of the union on 13 charges levied against Remington Hotel Corp., which manages the hotel.
The charges range from hotel management denigrating the union in front of employees to declaring an impasse in negotiations without first notifying the NLRB that a dispute was taking place.
"It means that we have the support of the government behind it," said Local 878 president Marvin Jones. "We're happy, but it's not over."
Remington is planning to appeal the complaint, said Arch Stokes, the attorney who will be representing Remington in a hearing to be held Aug. 10.
"We will put on our evidence, they will put on their evidence. We believe we did not violate the law. Those are our comments," Stokes said in a brief telephone interview.
The hotel had also filed charges with the NLRB, but the board found those charges to be without merit, said Richard Ahearn, a regional director with the NLRB.
The existing collective bargaining agreement between the union and the hotel expired in October 2009 after being extended several times while negotiations continued. Finally, the hotel declared an impasse, and since then, both sides have accused the other of using intimidation, misinformation and even threats to compel the other to acquiesce.
Remington said it believes many of the demands made by the union, including a 48 percent increase in health and welfare payments, to be too much given the current economy and the hotel's inability to meet these requests.
The complaint alleges that the hotel fired four of its workers -- Gina Tubman, Joanna Littau, Lucy Dudek and Troy Prichacharn -- for handing out leaflets asking customers to take their business elsewhere. The hotel has not disclosed the reasons for the firings beyond saying on its blog that the employees were "lawfully terminated for violating company policies, for which they had been previously counseled."
The complaint alleges that the firings were designed to discourage other employees from engaging in behaviors protected by federal labor law.
The NLRB also alleges that the hotel's general manager, Denis Artiles, assigned employees duties normally designated to security guards, installed and operated a series of video surveillance cameras throughout the facility and switched employees from the union's health care plan to an independent one May 1, all without notifying the union.
According to the language of the complaint, these are all changes that must first be discussed as part of a collective bargaining agreement before being implemented.
The NLRB also alleges that the hotel increased the number of rooms housekeeping employees are expected to clean in a shift without properly notifying the union. In October 2009, the hotel increased the number of rooms from 15 to 17 per shift.
This has long been a point of contention between the two parties. Jones said that cleaning those two extra rooms each shift puts a grueling burden on the shoulders of employees already worked to the point of exhaustion.
On a blog Remington has used to get its side of the debate out to the public, the company said a number of steps have been taken to ensure that the new load is not too hard for employees to handle, including providing supplies on each floor so employees don't have to travel far to restock.
In the wake of the dispute, the hotel has stepped up security and kept its employees tight-lipped about the hotel's activities. A policy instituted on or after Nov. 1, 2009 -- the same month the union initiated a boycott against the hotel -- prohibits all employees from talking to the news media about goings-on within the hotel, and requires them to inform management of any media inquiries made.
In the wake of the announcement by the union of the NLRB's findings, a public relations agency hired by Remington to represent them locally put out a press release claiming that Artiles, the hotel's general manager, had received death threats over the phone from 1:30 a.m. to 5 a.m. June 2. According to the release, he also received such threats in March.
According to Kathy Day, of Kathy Day Public Relations, who has been hired by Remington to help express its side of the dispute, Anchorage police have begun an investigation after reporters called them asking them if a report had been filed.
Artiles could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, as he was on a flight.
Though the hotel has not formally accused the union of making the threatening calls, Mary Villarreal, a former senior vice president of Remington who now advises them in the dipute, was willing to concede that she found the timing convenient.
"There's been some vandalism in the hotel. The timing has been interesting," she said.
Jones, the union's president, believes the hotel is lying in order to cast suspicion on the union.
"I think it's 100 percent fabricated," he said.
Sean Manget can be reached at
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