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Employees of the Desmond Hotel in Albany, New York Petition the Federal Government
to Decertify Union Representation After Union Officials Refused Contract Offer

With No Contract for a Year and a Half, Did Move Ultimately Prompt Union Officials to to Ratify Agreement?

By Alysia Santo, Times Union, Albany, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sept. 07, 2012--COLONIE -- The ongoing labor fight at The Desmond is taking rapid twists and turns.

On Tuesday, about a third of union members petitioned the federal government to decertify the union -- a move that could bring an election challenge to the union's representation within weeks.

But by late Thursday, both management and union officials confirmed that an agreement is close to being signed.

Employees of this popular Albany hotel haven't had a contract for a year and a half. Initial negotiations stalled, which led Local 6 of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council to launch a boycott against the hotel.

As of early last week, significant progress had been made, but pay and benefit arrangements remained undecided. After a meeting last Thursday, management offered up a contract, which the union refused.

That refusal further frustrated some employees who have disapproved of the union's tactics, namely the "Boycott the Desmond" campaign, which has cost the hotel at least a million dollars, according to management, and persuaded such patrons as New York State United Teachers, the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and members of the Senate Democratic Conference to publicly withdraw their business.

Some employees were afraid the boycott would result in the closing of the hotel and the loss of everyone's jobs. Others maintained it was an important leveraging tool. "Those who think the boycott is counterproductive have been brainwashed by management," said union shop steward and Desmond waiter William Spinosa.

But after the union turned down the hotel's offer last week, some employees, who felt that offer was fair, were fed up. "I was dumbstruck they didn't sign," said maintenance worker and union member Michael Osborne.

Others maintained support for the union. "Just one more meeting, and we'll be done," said hotel employee Jorge Estevez.

Meanwhile, a petition to decertify the union circulated, which could lead to an election that would give employees the option to remove Local 6 as the employee's representative.

Then, on Sunday, union president Peter Ward issued a statement to hotel employees, which said that while they "did not accept management's last offer immediately on Thursday," Ward concluded that "this is the best deal we can get. ... I believe the time has come to sign and ratify the agreement, end the boycott and work together to restore business."

While the union waited for management to finalize the deal, the decertification petition was submitted to the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday.

With 151 union employees at the hotel, a decertification requires support from 30 percent of the business's employees -- at least 46 signatures -- to be considered legitimate, and NLRB spokesman Barney Horowitz confirmed Thursday the petition met that minimum, but wouldn't specify how many people actually signed.

New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council spokesman Josh Gold said management "lackeys" were responsible for the petition. "This is a tactic by management to try and get out of a contract they offered and we accepted."

Desmond General Manager John D'Adamo says the petition is simply democracy in action. "The will of the employees took this to the next level, and the will of the employees may have prompted the union to consider the deal."

But some employees who signed the petition were upset when it was finally filed. Osborne says he signed to pressure the union to accept management's offer, and that he and many others tried to withdraw their signatures after they heard the contract had been approved.

The NLRB's Horowitz says petition signatures cannot be withdrawn because "once the threshold has been met we proceed on the assumption that a genuine question concerning representation exists."

Decertification petitions are relatively infrequent. Since 2011, 29 decertification petitions were filed in New York state (excluding New York City) and two of those petitions came from Albany addresses, including the latest from The Desmond.

Osborne says now he'll vote to keep the union in. "Now that the contract is signed and it's a fair contract, we're all satisfied," said Osborne. "Kicking the union out is just going to void the contract and force us to start all over again."

It's been a long battle, where pressure tactics and accusations have flown back and forth while the lives of the Desmond's employees have been fraught with tension.

Two Desmond managers alleged that union members slashed their tires in the hotel's parking lot, a complaint which was confirmed by law enforcement, who said the incidents were reported in April.

The union accused management of bad behavior, as well. A complaint filed to NLRB alleges that management threatened union members. Management settled with the NLRB and has posted signs on the property promising to not "suggest that bodily harm, even in jest, will be done to union representatives in order to discourage you from engaging in union activities," amongst other promises for non-interference with the union's organizing. --518-454-5008 --@alysiasanto


(c)2012 Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)

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