Friday, August 13, 1999

Isle union targets
Choy’s eateries

Local 5 alleges that restaurant
workers were intimidated

By Peter Wagner


Unhappy with the results of a recent election at a Sam Choy's restaurant on the Big Island, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, Local 5, is planning to picket the celebrity chef's establishments on Oahu.

Leaflets handed out this week to employees at Sam Choy restaurants on Nimitz Highway and Kapahulu Avenue allege Choy personally intimidated workers seeking union representation at his Keauhou Beach Resort restaurant.

A spokesman for Choy's restaurants denied the union's allegations.

Employees at Sam Choy's Hawaii on July 9 voted 48 to 17 against representation by the hotel workers union.

The union has challenged the results, filed an unfair labor practices charge and asked for a new election. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating.

Union chief Tony Rutledge said the union is not actively organizing workers at Sam Choy restaurants, just protesting election violations at the Keauhou site.

"We're informing his other employees at other restaurants of his activities," said Rutledge. "If there's an interest on their part or they're having any other problems, we'll see."

Rutledge noted that Choy, as a fledgling cook at the Kuilima Hotel in the early 1970s, was a member of Local 5. "I guess since he became an entrepreneur he's forgotten his roots," Rutledge said.

Union organizer Tommy Medeiros said the union was approached by workers at Keauhou wanting representation. He said 71 of the restaurant's 80 employees signed cards requesting an election. But threats later caused many of them to change their minds, he said. "Sam personally made threats he would shut the restaurant down," Medeiros said. "The employees got scared."

Choy yesterday was away on a business trip and could not be reached for comment. Business partner James H.Q. Lee, head of KBL Food Services Inc., denied any wrongdoing.

"None of it's true," said Lee.

He said the matter will be determined by the NLRB.

Sam Choy's Kona Cuisine Inc. operates seven restaurants in partnership with KBL. The restaurants are on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Japan, Guam and in California. Choy also owns Sam Choy's Restaurant and Catering in Kailua-Kona and Sam Choy's at the Bali Hai in San Diego.

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