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Judge slams Pacific Beach


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POSTED: Saturday, October 03, 2009

An administrative law judge has issued a benchmark ruling that could return jobs to some of the Pacific Beach Hotel workers who lost them during a more than two-year labor dispute.

Judge James Kennedy upheld 15 of 16 National Labor Relations Board charges filed by ILWU Local 142 on behalf of workers at the Pacific Beach Hotel at the conclusion of a 13-day hearing that ended Wednesday. The charges, which date back to 2007, stemmed from a lengthy battle between the union and Pacific Beach Hotel over its right to represent workers.

“;This is a very significant win for the NLRB and the union,”; said Tom Cestare, officer-in-charge of the NLRB office in Hawaii. “;It's the biggest case that we've had here in years, and it's sure to attract national attention.”;

Kennedy found that Pacific Beach Hotel bargained in bad faith, illegally polled and interrogated employees about their union support, refused to recognize the union, threatened union supporters with job loss or punishment, and fired some employees who were active in the union.

During the hearing, HTH Corp., Pacific Beach Corp. and Koa Management LLC were treated as a single employer doing business as the Pacific Beach Hotel.

The judge ordered the hotel to reinstate jobs for seven union negotiating committee members with back pay, reimburse the union for the cost of negotiations, bargain in good faith and rescind any unilateral employment changes with which the union does not agree. Kennedy gave Pacific Beach Hotel 14 days to comply.

During his 34-year career with NLRB, Cestare said he has never seen another case in which a union has prevailed after dealing with multiple elections and an owner that fired its hotel management team in an attempt to circumvent collective bargaining.

“;It's one of the most outrageous cases that I've ever seen,”; Cestare said.

Thirty-two workers at the 837-room Pacific Beach Hotel lost their jobs at the end of 2007. While the hotel blamed the layoffs on a lagging economy and a management change, ILWU said the action was just one of many “;legal games and gimmicks”; designed to displace the union. In addition, ILWU alleged that the hotel management implemented house rules prohibiting workers from supporting the union and arbitrarily changed working conditions.

The union and members of the Justice at the Beach, a coalition of community groups and lawmakers, later called for a consumer boycott that spread throughout the U.S., Japan and the Philippines. State and federal legislators even took up the fight.

Pacific Beach Hotel declined to comment yesterday.

“;Management is continuing to study the decision and will wait for another occasion to make a comment,”; said Doug Carlson, Pacific Beach Hotel spokesman.

Dave Mori, ILWU's Oahu division director, said it's time to end the legal struggle.

“;The union would like to move forward and work together with the hotel to reach a fair contract for the workers—which we feel will have a positive impact on workers' lives, the hotel itself and on Waikiki tourism in general,”; Mori said.

While Pacific Beach could appeal the judge's ruling, Cestare said a delay could invoke ancillary actions.

“;A decision on an appeal could take a while, and interest on the back pay and expenses would accrue,”; he said. “;They should cut a deal right now.”;

Rhandy Villanueva, who worked at Pacific Beach Hotel for 14 years before he was laid off, said he and other workers are excited about the ruling.

“;I would be very glad to go back to my job,”; said Villanueva, who is currently working at ILWU on a month-to-month basis. “;I'd be very glad to go back there and let them know that our fight was not in vain.”;

As word spread to other workers, the joy has overflowed, he said.

“;This is justice,”; he said, adding that as a member of the reinstated negotiating committee, he plans to fight for all the other jobs, too.