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Labor Unions

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Is Joe Bruno Shaking in His Wingtips Today?

Though we haven't been hearing about it as much lately, it turns out the heat is not off Joe Bruno. The FBI has been investigating the State Senate majority leader's outside business interests for nearly two years now, and today we learn that they've widened their inquiry. Several subpoenas were issued to pension funds linked to unions in Bruno's Albany-area district last week. Six local unions have many millions invested with a Connecticut firm, Wright Investors' Service, which employs Bruno for services that they have yet to explain to authorities. The connections were revealed in December by the Times, after which Bruno and the firm quickly severed their relationship. But the FBI's inquiry into union records show that Bruno is far from being off the hook. The Daily News' Elizabeth Benjamin also reports that the probe is going to weaken the union's traditional support of the powerful state senator. Despite public support for Bruno, one labor leader told Benjamin, "The conventional strategy of many building trades and public sector unions is about to end… They've made their bets on Bruno, but it's all unraveling." As the State Senate heads into a battle for control this fall, this could mean big things. Bruno and the state GOP were also banking on a Giuliani national candidacy to rally New York's Republican base to the voting booths in November. Even though Governor Spitzer has been muzzling himself lately, we're betting that these days behind his hand, he's chucking quietly. Investigation into Bruno Broadens [NYT] Albany unions support Joe Bruno despite chill of FBI subpoenas [NYDN]

FreshDirect Admits That Something Has Turned Sour

Hey, remember before Christmas when we told you about how FreshDirect was out of many basic products and was having trouble offering prompt delivery times? And how it might have been because of an exodus of illegal immigrant workers after a Homeland Security probe of the company? When we asked a rep for the popular grocery service about the issues, we were cryptically told to "plan ahead and to double-check available times." Now, though, FreshDirect brass are finally addressing the problem. Regular users with e-mail logins were sent a letter late yesterday telling them that this month, the company is "going to have a harder time meeting your food needs" than usual. The letter explains the labor issues and employee shortages they've been battling. Which is all well and good, but if it means we are going to have to carry an entire spiral ham on the M14 bus back from Whole Foods tomorrow, we might just have to move back to the suburbs.

Cardinal Rules

• Cardinal Egan turned 75 yesterday, and, as is required of cardinals who reach that age, submitted a resignation letter to the Vatican. The move could well be a mere formality — the Pope doesn't have to accept — but Egan's shaky standing within the archdiocese is giving it extra weight. [WNBC] • They set 'em up, he knocks 'em down: Fresh from vetoing the proposed pedicab guidelines, Mayor Bloomberg is overriding the much-discussed City Council ban on aluminum bats. ("I don't think that it's the city's business to regulate that.") [NYDN] • There will be an Imam on the NYPD payroll. The force is hiring a new chaplain. Khalid Latif, a Sunni who's ministered at NYU and Princeton, will be in charge of counseling the department's many Muslim officers. [amNY] • Starbucks is accused of breaking the law 30 times trying to stem unionization in its Manhattan shops. Now brewing, allegedly: retaliation firings, illegal interrogations of workers, and selective enforcement of the company's dress policy. [NYT] • And police on Franklin Gallimore III, the man that allegedly murdered his parents in cold blood when they asked him to move out: "He was a 20-year-old who was not living up to his mother's expectations." [NYP]

UWS Asian-Food Crisis Spreads as Labor Problems Hit Ollie's, Too

The great Asian-Food Apocalypse of 2007 continues, with the protests that have been plaguing Saigon Grill spreading today to the Ollie's Noodle Shop chain on the Upper West Side, where staffers — deliverymen, waiters, others — filed suit for a string of labor violations. While print reporters took notes and TV cameras rolled, a group of Chinese immigrants — most from Fujian province and claiming they were paid only $1.40 an hour — gathered at the Lincoln Center location to announce the legal action. David Colodny, a lawyer with the Urban Justice Center, filed the federal suit on behalf of 44 workers at three of the five Ollie's locations — Lincoln Center, Times Square, and West 84th Street — for violating minimum-wage and other employment laws.

Victorious Chinese Workers Celebrate Belated New Year

The Chinese New Year ended more than a week ago, but Chinese Staff and Workers Association — a militant labor-rights group trying to gain better pay and conditions for employees in the city's Chinese restaurants — held a celebration at P.S. 2 on Henry Street yesterday. "It's the Golden Year of the Pig, and it will be good for workers," said Wing Lam, the group's executive director. It's a moment for the association to be celebrating: Its members refused to sign a contract with the Saigon Grill mini-chain, which led the restaurant to suspend its delivery service last week, and in February a federal judge ruled that managers at the 88 Palace restaurant on East Broadway wrongfully pocketed a service charge the restaurant had imposed on banquet tabs, ordering owners to fork over to eleven busboys and waiters some $700,000 in gratuities and other costs dating to 2002. Lawyers for 88 Palace's owners have filed an appeal, and they're also fighting the workers' attorneys' request for close to $1 million in legal fees. But for now, at least, happy Year of the Pig.
Mary Reinholz

Labor Troubles at Saigon Grill Mean No Delivery for You

It's cold enough this week to make you reconsider going out for dinner. But if you're craving Vietnamese, you might have a problem. The popular Saigon Grill mini-chain, with locations on the Upper West Side and in the East Village (and a third, closed for renovation, on the Upper East Side), hasn't been offering delivery since it locked out 22 deliverymen Friday night. "I told them to leave because they tried to extort," owner Simon Nget, a Chinese Cambodian refugee, said last night. At an 11:30 meeting Friday, he asked the workers to sign a form he'd prepared, stipulating that they received adequate wages and would not sue him. A representative of the workers, he said, mentioned a $700,000 settlement paid to nine employees, which he said made him feel "threatened."

MTA and TWU: Deal!

We're a little late to the table with this, but, then, so are they. Just before the weekend, the Transit Workers Union and the MTA finally reached a deal on a new contract. Just now, you ask? Just now, we say. You may have thought that the three-year-old dispute was somehow settled after last December's ridiculous and inconvenient 60-hour strike, but you'd be wrong: It slouched on for another full year. The Roger Toussaint–led union kept rejecting and approving a deal that the Peter Kalikow–led MTA kept putting on and taking off the table. Finally, the matter hobbled into arbitration, where it languished until Friday. The best part: The new contract, awarded by the arbitrators' ruling, is nearly identical to the one the sides agreed on last December, making the last year a total waste. But, hey, at least it got Toussaint reelected — on the very same day his signature cause disappeared. Kalikow, a gubernatorial appointee and no friend of Spitzer's, won't be nearly so lucky. Arbitrators Rule on Deal for Transit [NYT]

Don't Stop Thinking About, Oh, Roughly Nine O'Clock Tonight

• Let's see in what spirit the three papers sent us off to the voting booth. Daily News: "Dems Expected to Sweep State." Post: "Dems Dimming Celebration; A Bitty Less Giddy As Polls Tighten Up." And Times: "For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure." Jeez, Adam Nagourney, every silver lining's got a touch of gray, eh? [NYDN; NYP; NYT] • The opening date for the World Trade Center [Memorial Museum] is getting quietly pushed back from 2009 to [mid-2010]. The brackets are for our own use, as we're probably just going to be copying and pasting this one in the future. A lot. [NYDN] • The teacher's union reached a deal with the City Hall on a new contract a year before the old one expires, circumventing the tedious ritual wherein one side threatens a strike, the other acts scared, and both incrementally slouch toward compromise. Oh, well, next time. The teachers' salaries may rise over 7 percent under the deal. [NYS] • But maybe not for this one: Another teacher-student affair, and this time, just to make matters that much more sordid, the school's principal is getting fired for a full-blown cover-up. The assistant principal may get the boot for not cooperating with the investigation. [NYT] • And the AP reports that more and more New Yorkers are getting their marijuana delivered to the door by courteous, well-organized, corporate-style couriers, "even on Christmas." Now that's quality of life. [AP via Boston Herald]

Daniel Picketed!

When you drop $216 on dinner for two – that's with one drink and a tip, of course – you naturally expect what Zagat reviewers have dubbed a "luxurious temple" of "fine dining" where the "flawless" New French fare is "enthralling," the wines "wonderful," service "seamless," and the "exquisite room" "adorned with gorgeous flowers." What you might less expect, however, is a "labor war" "brewing" "out front." But that's just what diners at Daniel – a 28/28/28, if you're keeping track at home – discovered when they arrived Tuesday night. Grubbie Josh Ozersky explains that Mr. Boulud is battling a group called the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, and he lays out the terms of the battle on Grub Street. Daniel Under Attack! (Again) [Grub Street]

It's Springtime for Hitler Kid

• You've got to hand it to the Hitler Kid: After getting ejected from school for donning the costume on Halloween, yesterday he wore it again — this time for the media, and purely in protest. This is quickly turning into the lamest ACLU case ever. [NYP] • You do not cross American Girl Place. The Mattel-owned dainty emporium has filed a complaint against Actors' Equity that says AEA has been goading its employees to unionize. This is going to be like On the Waterfront, except with Barbies. [NYDN] • ExamGate! Staten Island high-school administrators may have tampered with grades on Regents exams and directed teachers to do it as well. A whopping seventeen science teachers came forward with the accusations. Better late than never, we suppose (the exams were administered in June). On a lighter note, but on the same theme, a Brooklyn high-school principal has distributed a pie chart explaining her new grading system — with the slices totaling more than 100 percent. [NYT, NYDN] • A Bronx man is DOA at St. Barnabas after a police shootout. According to the cops, two plainclothes officers clearly saw the gunman armed and assaulting another man; the DOA fired first. [WNBC] • And, it's beginners' luck for the Knicks, who eked out their first win (against Memphis, 118-117) under coach Isiah Thomas. In a more disturbing portent, it took them three OTs to do so. [amNY]

Even With Big Circ, ‘Post’ Gets Sued

Plaintiff: Christopher Capanelli Defendants: NYP Holdings, doing business as New York Post; K. Rupert Murdoch; Joseph Vincent; Lloyd Vasquez Accusation: It's a lovefest at the New York Post this week, but, as always happens, someone is trying to ruin the party. In a lawsuit filed October 25 in Bronx Supreme Court, Rupert Murdoch and his Posties are accused of launching an aggressive campaign of intimidation to squeeze out the Pressman's Union.