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Union backed in LAX Hilton case

Judge says the hotel broke the law over a work stoppage.

October 25, 2008|Evelyn Larrubia | Larrubia is a Times staff writer.

Los Angeles labor leaders won a round in an ongoing dispute against the LAX Hilton this week, when a federal administrative judge found that hotel management had wrongfully suspended 77 workers and pushed and threatened others for engaging in work stoppages and other protected activities.

"It's an enormous victory of the workers," said Kurt Petersen, lead organizer for Unite Here Local 11, the restaurant and hotel workers union that filed the complaint.

In a statement, Hilton officials said that the judge's decision was "wrong" and that they were considering appealing it to the full National Labor Relations Board, which must review the ruling for it to become final.

Administrative Judge John A. McCarrick found that the hotel had violated the law in various instances between March and August 2006. In April 2006, a banquet chef pushed some employees back to their work stations after one employee asked if they could put a piggy bank in the kitchen to raise money for equipment, records show. Soon thereafter, the chef told an employee that he would "kick their asses out of here" if they left their workstations to talk. McCarrick said both actions were against the law.

The principal allegations center on a May 11, 2006, incident in which nearly 100 workers gathered in the cafeteria and demanded to know why a pro-union colleague had been suspended. Managers ordered the employees back to work, and the workers initially refused. Police were summoned, and dozens of workers were suspended.

McCarrick determined that the employees were engaging in a protected work stoppage and that the hotel violated the law in disciplining the workers. He ordered the hotel to pay more than $36,000 in back wages to employees, plus interest.

"They suspended 77 workers who could barely pay their rent for a week because they wanted to talk about it with their managers," Petersen said. "You don't lose your right to speech when you walk in the door of the LAX Hilton, and that's what this decision basically says."

Hilton officials said the employee who touched off the incident had been disciplined for stealing from hotel guests.

The hotel and Unite Here have been locked in a heated battle for years. The group has called for a boycott of the hotel and continues to stage protests there. Last month, the union held a sit-down dinner in tents on Century Boulevard, blocking access to the airport for hours.

Two of the 13 hotels in that corridor have signed contracts with the union and two are in talks. Hilton officials said they will accept unionization by a secret-ballot election only, not by counts of cards indicating an employee's wish to join the union.

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evelyn.larrubia@latimes.com

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