On August 25, 2011, Administrative Law Judge Gregory Z. Meyerson issued a long-awaited verdict on the sixteen separate allegations of unlawful behavior which had been lodged against Remington Lodging & Hospitality LLC, the operator of the Sheraton Anchorage hotel, by the National Labor Relations Board (the Board), the federal agency authorized to enforce the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which is the law that governs labor relations for most private sector employers. This ruling brings Sheraton workers one step closer to justice.
Basing his conclusions on the evidence that was presented before him during 40 days of hearing, Judge Meyerson’s ruling is a searing indictment of the Sheraton Anchorage’s reign of terror and abuse directed against its workers and their union, UNITE HERE Local 878.
The Board first brought most of these charges against the Sheraton Anchorage almost eighteen months ago, on May 28, 2010, and added more on August 17, 2010. Now, at long last, Judge Meyerson has concluded that the Sheraton Anchorage violated federal labor law in numerous ways, including:
- unlawfully disciplining and suspending employees for presenting a petition to the hotel’s General Manager;
- unlawfully firing four employees for passing out handbills to the public outside the doors of the hotel;
- unlawfully demanding that workers stop wearing union buttons;
- unlawfully enforcing multiple illegal rules contained in the hotel’s “employee handbook”;
- unlawfully implementing numerous bargaining proposals, including raising the minimum number of rooms housekeepers are required to clean from 15 to 17, eliminating paid 30-minute meal breaks, and imposing fees on cafeteria purchases, without first notifying the appropriate federal agency of its intent to do so;
- unlawfully replacing the existing, union-sponsored medical insurance plan with a different, company-selected plan, without first bargaining in good faith about this proposal with Local 878;
- unlawfully coercing employees to sign a petition indicating their desire to reject Local 878 as their union; and thereafter
- unlawfully refusing to recognize or bargain with Local 878 as the lawful representative of the hotel’s hourly workers.
By way of remedy, Judge Meyerson ordered the hotel to undo all of its unlawful acts, including (among other things) eliminating all of the unlawful provisions of its employee handbook; reinstating the rule that workers need only clean 15 rooms per shift; reinstituting the earlier, union-sponsored medical insurance plan; repaying workers for any out-of-pocket expenses they incurred that would have been covered by the prior plan; making workers whole for any uncompensated 30-minute meal breaks and any fees they paid for cafeteria food; and expunging all records of unlawful discipline imposed on workers while making those workers whole for any economic damage they suffered as a result of that discipline, plus interest.
Most importantly, Judge Meyerson ordered the hotel to recognize that its workers have the right to make complaints about their wages and working conditions, the right to wear union buttons, the right to petition their General Manager for relief, and the right to handbill the public for support – all rights that the hotel had inexcusably and unlawfully previously denied to them. To make sure that workers understand that they really do have these rights, Judge Meyerson took the unusual step of also ordering that a densely-written 5-page notice setting forth their legal rights under the NLRA be publicly read aloud, in both English and in Spanish, to the assembled employees of the hotel by a high-level corporate executive in the present of an agent of the Board — or by a Board agent in the present of a high-level corporate executive.
Finally, the judge ordered the hotel to acknowledge that Local 878 still represents the hotel’s hourly employees, as it did before the hotel commenced its illegal activities, and to recommence bargaining with the union, this time in good faith with the intention of reaching an agreement.
The scope and importance of this decision cannot easily be overemphasized. During the time period since the Sheraton Anchorage embarked on its campaign to rid itself of the union that represents its workers, it has suffered one significant legal defeat after another. First, starting in May of 2010, the Board found merit in countless unfair labor practice charges that had been leveled against the hotel by the union. Six months later, in November of 2010, a United States District Judge in Anchorage dismissed the hotel’s lawsuit against the Board, which it had brought less than six weeks earlier in a futile effort to try to stop the Board from enforcing the NLRA. On August 4 of this year, just a few weeks before Judge Meyerson’s ruling, yet another federal judge in Anchorage dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit for defamation and tortious interference that the hotel had filed against Local 878.
While awaiting Judge Meyerson’s ruling, Local 878 has filed 30 additional unfair labor practice charges against the Anchorage Sheraton, alleging that the hotel has engaged in even more acts of intimidation and retaliation against union activists and supporters. Local 878 anticipates that the Board will take further legal action against the hotel, in support of the workers and their union, sometime in the next few weeks or months. In the meantime the consumer boycott of the hotel remains in effect and Sheraton workers remain hopeful that this ruling will bring them one significant step closer to resolving the labor dispute.