|By Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu
Star-AdvertiserMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 01, 2011--The owner of the Pacific Beach Hotel, which has been locked in a 10-year dispute regarding union-organizing attempts by its employees, has been found in contempt of a U.S. District Court judge's order.
Judge J. Michael Seabright's ruling Tuesday requires hotel owner HTH Corp. and its top manager, Robert "Mick" Minicola, who also was found in contempt, to read the decision aloud to employees. That order mandates that the hotel comply with an injunction issued in March requiring it to follow the National Labor Relations Act.
Seabright's contempt ruling also ordered Pacific Beach Hotel to pay back the U.S. Treasury and the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 142 for related legal costs, and instructed the company to reinstate and give back pay to Rhandy Villanueva, a pro-union employee who the NLRB said was wrongfully terminated twice. Villanueva, who was on the union bargaining committee, was first fired in December 2008 along with 32 others. A legal order reinstated Villanueva in 2010, but he was fired again a few months later.
"I told the company that I am glad to come back for the second time and I expect for the best," said Villanueva, who will return to work in the next week or so. "The ruling that just came out will personally benefit me and it will protect other employees' rights, too."
The contempt ruling issued Tuesday comes on the heels of a second injunction, which Seabright issued on Nov. 21 to enforce a separate ruling by Judge John McCarrick on other labor charges.
"It's not just another legal victory for the NLRB and the union, it's the biggest ever in Hawaii," said Dave Mori, Oahu division director for the ILWU, who first filed a petition for union recognition by Pacific Beach Hotel in 2002 and has been banned from the property since April.
Tom Cestare, NLRB Hawaii-officer-In-charge, said the Pacific Beach Hotel case marks the first time in at least three decades that his office has sought two injunctions and a contempt charge against a Hawaii employer.
"To have a U.S. District Court find you in contempt of its first order is hugely significant," Cestare said. "You are flaunting the law at that point. But we also got a second injunction. This is the first time in 30 years that we've ever had to do something like this. Most people in Hawaii play by the rules."
During the past decade, the NLRB has charged Pacific Beach with numerous labor violations that include failing to bargain in good faith, discharging employees to discourage union activities, unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment, and interfering with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act.
Minicola, regional vice president of operations for HTH Corp., said the hotel complied with legal orders and that the NLRB charges were frivolous.
"We are still reviewing our legal options; however, in the interim, we intend to follow what the judge is asking," Minicola said.
The matter could be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before the latest legal decisions, Pacific Beach Hotel had petitioned the nation's highest court to address whether a short-staffed U.S. NLRB in Washington had the authority to assign the case to general counsel.
"We believe that we have a good chance. Some cases have already upheld this," Minicola said.
The contempt order and both injunctions could be nullified if the U.S. Supreme Court were to decide to hear the case and then rule for the hotel. However, it would be a costly battle for Pacific Beach Hotel, and so far, it has not been successful in their pursuit of other legal avenues, Cestare said.
"We've slammed them every step of the way," he said. "It's pretty bad when a judge describes management behavior as bordering on farcical."
Minicola said the hotel, which employs 450 workers and supervisors, is not trying to keep the union out.
"We are trying to preserve the legal rights of our workers to choose whether or not they want to be in a union," Minicola said.
The ILWU has balked at a hotel proposal for an open shop, which would allow individual workers to choose whether they wanted to belong to the union, he said.
But Mori said that negotiations between Pacific Beach Hotel and the ILWU have not moved since 2005, when contract talks began.
"They've complied with previous court orders to come to the bargaining table, but in the end, new charges have been filed," he said.
(c)2011 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services