On Tuesday at noon, approximately 60 hospitality workers at the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant walked out or failed to come in for their shifts, protesting alleged abuses by restaurant owner Dean Poll. The workers also said they would be on strike on Wednesday night.
The workers claim that Poll has broken federal labor laws by repeatedly harassing, intimidating, and firing workers for attempting to unionize. They say they will continue to picket the restaurant during dining hours every night until owners accept a union contract.
Although workers walked out for the first time on Tuesday, the labor dispute at the Central Park restaurant has been ongoing for some time. Last February, the Hotel Trades Council, a hospitality union working with Boathouse employees, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B.), the federal entity responsible for investigating unfair labor practices. The N.L.R.B. is currently investigating more than 10 complaints that the Hotel Trades Council has filed against Poll.
Poll, however, has another story to tell.
"While The Boathouse management respects the employees who came to work and walked off the job, this walkout is yet another vindictive tactic by Hotel Trades Council President Peter Ward," said David Weissman, Mr. Poll's attorney.
According to Weissman, the walk-out is part of a larger story relating to the closure of the Tavern on the Green in 2009.
"[Ward] wrongly blames Dean Poll for the fact that Tavern on the Green remains closed," Weissman said. "In truth, it was Ward who was unwilling to agree on a contract -- thus costing 400 Tavern employees their jobs."
The Hotel Trades Council has called for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation to cancel Poll's contract to operate the restaurant. Several city politicians have joined the fray and sided with the union, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, both mayoral hopefuls in the 2013 race.
"I think the city has an obligation here and we hope that Commissioner of Parks Adrian Benepe does the right thing and intervenes to tell Dean Poll that an operator on city property can't get away with this kind of stuff," said Charlotte Hall, a union representative at the Hotel Trades Council.
Parks department officials said they were still discussing the dispute and that they had no further comment at press time. Officials said that the city had received over $3 million in licensing fees from the Boathouse in 2010.