Strike at N.Y. Club Intensifies

Club for Harvard Alumni Charged With Unfair Labor Practices

A strike against the Harvard Club of New York by 130 of its employees has turned ugly, with each side in the escalating labor dispute accusing the other of unruly behavior.

As the club goes to court in an attempt to make workers on the picket line more civil, union officials charge that club members have resorted to strong-arm tactics--even dumping water on strikers from an upstairs window.

With the strike entering its second month, both club officers and members of Local 6 of the Hotel Employees Union are bidding for public support. Recently, the club took the extraordinary step of hiring Howard Rubenstein and Associates, a high-priced public relations firm which has counted real estate mogul and playboy Donald J. Trump among its clients.

Robert J. Arnold, the club's general manager, says the public relations firm was hired "to help get our message across more effectively."

In this expensive war of words, the flashpointhas become the club's suit. A spokesperson for thestriking workers says the lawsuit is a way for theclub to divert attention from charges of unfairlabor practices leveled against it.

But Arnold said yesterday that the organizationfiled the suit because the picketers aredisrupting business and disturbing theneighborhood.

In a signed affidavit, Arnold claims thepicketers have "scream[ed] at anyone who passed bythe club, focusing most intensely on women,children and the elderly who happened to pass byor enter the club."

The club's attorney, Harlan J. Silverstein,says he has filed "a preliminary injunction toreduce the number of picketers outside the club tosix, and to restrain screaming and yelling and thebarrage of noise."

According to the Associated Press, courtpapers filed by the club say business is off 30percent in its dining room, down 15 percent in itsguest rooms, and about 10 percent of banquets havebeen canceled "as a direct result of the pickets'noisy and boisterous conduct."

In addition, owners of several nearbybusinesses have filed affidavits in support ofthe club. These entrepreneurs allege that theirestablishments have been adversely affected by theboisterous conduct of the picketers.

Silverstein says the club "respect[s] the rightof the employees to be on strike" and maintainsthat it is "not trying to prevent [the picketers]from communicating a peaceful and lawful message."

But John F. Turchiano, a spokesperson for Local6, calls the club's accusations false.

Turchiano says the club has made "fictitiouscomplaints about [the union's] activities".

"We've used no sound amplification devices, nowhistling. It's lies. It's nonsense," Turchianosays. "Besides, are picket lines supposed to bequiet?"

In addition, Turchiano claims that theaffidavits filed by the club's neighbors "say thesame thing--as if a lawyer wrote all of them."

Turchiano contends that some of thoseentrepreneurs who filed affidavits are biasedbecause they are members of the club.

As evidence, he cities an affidavit filed byCarol W. Brown, an official of a business locatednear the club. "My husband and I are both membersof the club and I have entered the Club on severaloccasions during the strike," Brown's affidavitsays.

"I am a vendor of the Club and docomputer-related work for the Club," the affidavitcontinues.

Turchiano charges that "the purpose of thecourt case [against the picketers] is to take theattention off the real issue."

The real issue, according to Turchiano, is thebehavior of the president of the Harvard Club,Donald L. Shapiro '57. According to Turchiano,Shapiro "takes delight in going out and tauntingthe workers."

"He talks to strikers so condescendingly it'sdisgusting," Turchiano says.

In addition to the taunting, Turchiano claimsshapiro has violated the national Labor RelationsAct.

According to Turchiano, Shapiro "toldpicketers, 'Sorry, we're going to have topermanently replace you,' and then said, 'Thiswould not have happened if weren't for the union.This would be settled if you would just come inand talk to the kitchen chefs and the diningservices without the union. The union is causingthe problem."'

Turchiano, who was present at the time, says heimmediately told Shapiro: "You just committed anunfair labor practice." He says Shapiro respondedby "walking away briskly, saying, 'I can't talk, Ihave to go"'.

Shapiro did not return repeated phone callsyesterday.

Turchiano says he believes this incident id thereason the club has filed the suit against thepicketers."[The court case is] window dressing to avoidlosing a tremendous amount of business," Turchianosays. "Instead of going to court[the club] shouldget serious and negotiate."

But Silverstein, the club's attorney, sayscharges of unfair labor practices are unfounded.

"We are confident that the charges are notaccurate and will be responded too withappropriate evidence in court as to what the factsare," Silverstein says.

"We have not asked [the picketers] to abandonthe union and to negotiate without the union or toignore the union and come back to work for theclub," he says.

Silverstein says the charges "will beinvestigated by [the] National Labor relationsBoard' and adds that the club is 'confident thatthe National Labor Relations Board will findinaccuracies in[the union's] assertion, and thatno unfair labor practices were committed by Mr.Shapiro."

Asked about Shapiro's alleged taunting of thedemonstrators, Silverstein says that "As far as Iknow they are inaccurate and that's all I'mprepared to say."

Harvard Law School professor David Westfallsays that if found guilty of unfair practices, theclub will not be allowed to replace the strikingworkers.

"[A conviction] changes the rights of thestrikers to reinstatement," says Westfall, who isGray professor of law. "If a strike is caused orprolonged by unfair labor practices, the strikershave rights to reinstatement at the end of thestrike and the company cannot permanently replacethem whether or not they have a vacancy."

In addition to Shapiro's alleged taunting,Turchiano claims that "people have dumped water onthe strikers from inside the Club."

Arnold, the general manager, acknowledges thatan incident occurred in which water was spilled onthe picketers, but say: "If we had caught thatperson he would have been arrested, member ornot."

Turchiano also maintains that the club has thefunds to meet the demands of the workers, who havebeen on strike since April 3 to protest possiblechanges in wages, vacation time and benefits.

"Shapiro has been writing letters to memberssaying the revenues are flat and membership isdown because of high labor costs," Turchiano says."But last year's fiscal report says the club isprosperous."

Arnold acknowledges that Shapiro said in hisannual presidential address that "the club [has]remained relatively prosperous."

But he says this statement was "taken out ofcontext" and the club is really "sinking fast."

But Turchiano maintains that between the legalfees, the public relations firm and otherexpenses, the club has "spent more money on thestrike than on a three to five year contract."

Silverstein disagrees with Turchiano'sstatement, claiming that these expenses are "noteven a small fraction' of the cost of a pay raise.

"The club did not want a strike, did not askfor a strike," Silverstein says. "The union causedthe strike. The union chose to go on strike."

Silverstein adds that the club has "been readyat any and all times to negotiate with the union."But he adds that "in New York, 30 to 40 peoplescreaming, yelling, whistling and bangingcardboard boxes at anyone passing by the club isnot protected by law, and the club therefore hasthe right to remedy that aspect of the picketing."

But Turchiano feels "the Harvard Club is goingto create a war," and compares the club to "alittle boy who runs home to mommy.'

Says Turchiano: "The club wants the picket lineeliminated because people who talk to the workerslay off and don't go in the club because peoplehave consciences.